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London singer / songwriter / producer Laurel Arnell-Cullen, known in music circles simply as Laurel, has the singing voice and musical chops to make her a bona fide pop star, not to mention a certain physical beauty–she moonlights as a model alongside her music career. Indeed, she has already garnered an impressive number of online fans: 3,000 followers on her Soundcloud, 14,000 followers on her Facebook and more than 5,000 followers on her Twitter feed. But take a look past the pretty face, vocal acrobatics and heavy dance beats, and you’ll find a few pleasantly unexpected quirks in Laurel’s musical style that distinguish her from her alt-pop contemporaries.
Laurel’s released her breakout track ‘Fire Breather’ in January 2014. Its stark rhythmic pulse and Laurel’s sultry vocals are a remarkably effective musical accompaniment to the fiery lyrical imagery in the song’s chorus “No, it’s too much / burn my sun / up in flames we go / you fire breather / ash and dust on my door / smoke rise / trying to survive inside your arms”.
‘Fire Breather’ was quickly followed in April 2014 by an EP titled ‘To The Hills’ which features three different mixes of the string-laden title track along with the mesmerizing fan favourite ‘Shells’. Laurel subsequently posted three remixes of ‘Shells’ on her Soundcloud, each emphasising a different facet of the song, revealing both a strong musical foundation and an intrinsic flexibility in her work.
Laurel’s next EP ‘Holy Water’ came out during the Christmas season of 2014 and contains an excellent collaboration with TGTF alumnus Sivu called ‘Come Together’. The duet vocals of ‘Come Together’ alternate between the square, almost robotic delivery of the opening lyrical lines “I’m the maker of rituals / I’m gonna swallow you up and eat you” and the softer, sweeter vocal harmonies that immediately follow. The shimmering wash of instrumental sound is slow and sensual, grounded by a heavy bass pulse and a crisp percussion rhythm.
April 2015 saw the online release of a Laurel’s experimental mixtape EP called ‘Allelopathy’. As our science-minded editor Mary probably already knows, alleleopathy “is a biological phenomenon by which an organism produces one or more biochemicals that influence the growth, survival, and reproduction of other organisms.” It’s an interesting title for a set of songs, presumably referring to the figurative chemistry of a romantic relationship. The songs on the EP are given the scientific names of different plant species, including the cheeky ‘Laurocerasus’, or common laurel.
Laurel’s most recent release is a new single titled ‘Blue Blood’, which sees a return to her alt-pop comfort zone, with dramatic strings and tribal drum beats in the instrumental arrangement along with Laurel’s impressive vocal flexibility. The delicate, ethereal quality of the layered backing vocals is matched by the translucent visual layers in the accompanying video, directed by Ben Newbury.
While Laurel’s most popular songs lean toward a homogenous mainstream pop style, her naturalistic lyrical imagery and the inherently dramatic quality of her instrumental arrangements keep them fresh and unique. Her more experimental work and her collaborations with other artists are equally intriguing, with potential for shaping the evolution of her already precociously prolific body of work.
Laurel’s latest single ‘Blue Blood’ is out now on her own independent label Next Time Records.
Cheshire-born singer/songwriter Adam French has taken the long way round to bringing his music to the UK. He started out in a band called The Rittz back in 2007, but with his fellow bandmates heading off to university, French found himself at a fork in the road. He decided on a solo career at the end of 2012, combining his passion for music with an equal passion for travel and choosing to tour in Africa before gaining attention at home. His first tour took him through Botswana, Zambia, Zimbabwe and South Africa, catching the eye of BBC Introducing in this blog post from 2013.
French is a self-taught musician who plays guitar, piano, bass and drums. His proficiency on each is demonstrated on his ‘More to Life’ EP, which was released in October 2014. The EP might be more accurately called a double-sided single, containing only the title track and its b-side, but it provides just enough of a taste to whet the listener’s appetite.
The gritty, fast-paced single ‘More to Life’ is instantly engaging, with a delightfully danceable rhythm and a catchy chorus. The chorus lyric “I’ve never asked but / I’ve always wondered / just why you’re here / when there’s so much more to life” is layered with a faint but distinctly present backing melody to create a fuller sound as the song draws to a close.
The b-side track is a mysterious and beautiful song called ‘Ivory’, whose tribal percussion sound could have been inspired by French’s sojourn to Africa, along with the chorus lyric “on my knees / it’s your name that I’m calling out / ivory / feel my pain as they cut it all down / here we burn to the ground”. The plucked guitar and crystal clear piano melodies are a perfect accompaniment to French’s vocals, which alternate between whispered verses and a rougher, more dramatic full voice in the song’s intense moments. Once again, several motifs are morphed together in the coda to create a climactic, richly layered effect.
French’s newest release is a fragile and dramatically ethereal track called ‘Silhouettes’, which was released as a single back in April. French uses his silky falsetto most effectively in the recurring line “and you see me as a silhouette of the man I once was” as well as in the echo of the backing vocals. Indeed, his vocal delivery is exquisite on all three tracks, adding to his already spectacular list of performing abilities.
Fans of Nick Mulvey’s folk rock style will enjoy Adam French’s sound, which is less complex than Mulvey’s but more robust and with a world music twist that is equally compelling. French’s Facebook promises new music in the near future, after the summer festival season draws to a close. If you can’t wait that long, you can catch him live at Festival No. 6 in Portmeirion, Wales in September.
Following the release of her debut solo EP ‘Môr Hud’ in 2002, Cardiff-born singer Gwenno Saunders went on to represent Cornwall in the 2003 Alternative Eurovision Song Contest, where she won the People’s Choice Award for her performance of ‘Vodya’. The track featured on her 2004 EP of the same name.
In 2005, Gwenno joined the Brighton-based indie pop group The Pipettes as a singer and keyboardist, replacing the founding member, Julia Clarke-Lowes. The band went on to score two UK Top 40 singles with ‘Pull Shapes’ and ‘Your Kisses Are Wasted On Me’. After five years in the band, Gwenno pursued solo projects, which led to her touring as a synth player in 2012 with Australian duo Pnau (Empire of the Sun) and Elton John. In the same year, Gwenno released ‘Ymbelydredd’ – a 15-song EP that was sung entirely in Welsh – on Peski Records.
In October 2014, Gwenno launched her first solo album, ‘Y Dydd Olaf’ (“The Last Day”) – a political concept electropop album, which was sung entirely in Welsh, with the exception of one song in Cornish. The record, which Gwenno produced free of industry expectations, sales targets and commercial shackles, draws inspiration from Owain Owain’s 1976 novel of the same name, and covers themes of patriarchal society, government-funded media propaganda, cultural control, technology, isolation and the importance of minority languages. Produced by Rhys Edwards, ‘Y Dydd Olaf’ was first released with Peski Records, where a limited edition pressing sold out within weeks. The record was just re-released in July 2015, to coincide with Gwenno signing to Heavenly Recordings.
Having recently supported Super Furry Animal singer Gruff Rhys on his ‘American Interior’ tour, Gwenno looks set to embark on a co-headline tour with fellow label-mate H.Hawkline in September. The tour begins at the Leeds Brudenell Games Room on the 17th of September and concludes at Birmingham Rainbow Club on Saturday the 26th of September.
Gwenno’s first solo album ‘Y Dydd Olaf’ is out now on Heavenly Recordings.
Bella Hay (vocals) and Cris Kuhlen (producer) make up Tears & Marble, an electronic band from The Hague in Holland. The Dutch duo are able to craft smooth, atmospheric and perfectly-balanced electronic pieces, making them one of the most exciting up-and-coming acts of the year so far.
In 2013, the duo captured the attention of blogs, radio stations and music critics worldwide with their haunting cover of Haddaway’s megahit ‘What Is Love’. Their almost-unrecognisable rendition contained an atmospheric aurora of percussion, guitar plucks and sparse piano keys, replacing the cheesy dance track everyone knows (and loves). The following year, Tears & Marble unveiled their debut single, ‘We Don’t Like You’, an unnerving melody with soft, enthralling vocals. The single proved extremely successful, coming seventh in Beehy.pe’s “Best Track of 2014” list.
‘We Don’t Like You’ was one of five tracks to feature on the ‘Romance’ EP, which Tears & Marble released independently in June 2014. (Listen to it on the band’s Soundcloud.) Since then, Tears & Marble have gone on to win over fans across Europe, regularly playing prominent music festivals, both nationally and internationally. Their appearances included a performance at PITCH Festival in Amsterdam, as well as a support slot during TGTF buzz band Glass Animals’ Amsterdam show in November 2014.
Six months later, Tears & Marble made their UK debut at The Great Escape Festival in Brighton. To coincide with their performance, the duo released ‘Blood & Gold’ as a single from their EP. The track received positive reviews from fans and critics alike, with the music video being selected for VEVO’s “Power Premiere” feature.
Tears & Marble are certainly a band with a vision, and they are doing everything in their power to make it happen. With one successful EP already under their belt, it won’t be long before they unleash new music upon the world. If their future releases are anything like their previous work, there is every chance that Tears & Marble will become a big name in the music business.
Chicago-born Gilligan Moss was dissatisfied with the routine of “adult life” (who can blame him?), and decided to devote his time to his hobby – music production. At first, Moss began sharing tracks with his close friends, although, in 2014, he quickly built up a cult following online. Since then, he has steadily produced a stream of acerbic electronic pop, making him an upcoming artist to keep a close eye on.
Despite the electronic pop label, it’s hard to pinpoint Gilligan Moss to one particular genre. The producer has the ability to combine infectious hooks across a palette of music styles, from dance and psych-rock to synth pop and an array of other genres. Bizarrely, this almost collage of multiple musical genres works in a weird and wonderful way, and it’s the producer’s unpredictability that makes him stand out amongst the overly-saturated market.
His first release ‘Hemlock’ is made up of layers upon layers of piano, synths and childlike vocals that are in an indecipherable foreign language. The track proved a huge hit among Moss’ cult following, although it was his follow-up single, ‘Choreograph’, which gave him widespread recognition. Like his previous release, the adrenaline-inducing track is a frantic amalgamation of sounds, harmonised with a marimba. Both ‘Hemlock’ and ‘Choreograph’ will feature on his four-track ‘Ceremonial EP’, which will be released later this month.
In addition to his own singles, Gilligan Moss has also remixed tracks for other artists, include his intoxicating remix of Glass Animals‘ ‘Gooey’, which has racked up almost half a million views on YouTube at the time of writing. This led to him being the support act on the indie rock band’s tour of America earlier this year. In more recent months, Moss provided a breezily infectious remix of Sia’s ‘Big Girls Cry’.
Looking ahead to the future, Gilligan Moss looks set to crack the UK, as he performs at the AMF Summer Party on the 14th of August to coincide with the launch of his ‘Ceremonial EP’ on AMF Records.
Header photo by Declan Gallen
Belfast-based Arborist is described as being “fueled by the lyrical and musical misadventures of Mark McCambridge and a cast of well-travelled musicians.” The Arborist moniker refers to McCambridge himself, who first performed under the name as a solo artist in the early part of 2013. The journeyman singer/songwriter has since gathered a bevy of band members including Richard Hill, James Heaney, Ben McAuley, Johnny Ashe and Luke Bannon, who accompanied him at the Great Escape 2015 back in May.
Arborist’s music is the kind of quiet, self-assured folk that steals your attention before you realize it, drawing you in with its thoughtful, evocative poetry and country-tinged instrumental charms. Behind McCambridge’s softly lilting lead vocals are slurred string melodies and lightly layered vocal harmonies, woven around gently rocking guitar and percussion rhythms. McCambridge’s singing voice has just a hint of roughness around the edges that strikes the balance between strength in the solo passages and a seamless blend with the backing harmonies.
In Arborist’s latest single ‘Twisted Arrow’, which was released on the 4th of May, backing harmonies are contributed by former Pixies bassist and Breeders lead singer Kim Deal, who agreed to the collaboration in an email exchange with McCambridge. The track was recently featured by BBC 6 Music, but if you missed it there, you can watch the accompanying video, directed by Stephen Agnew, just below.
‘Border Blood’ is even more unapologetically country-flavoured, with lyrics about guns and holsters, saddles and horses, and the striking chorus, “it’s either in your heart or in your belly / they’re gonna make it hard for you to choose / you didn’t come down here to lose.” But in this song, the country twang is mitigated by the addition of piano melodies and soaring jazz-tinged brass over the gently rocking rhythm and wailing steel guitar. The instrumental layers add depth and significance to the second verse lyrics, “revenge tastes bitter and strange / there’s something in the danger that keeps you on the dusty trail”, bringing the track to a bittersweet close, very much like a lonely cowboy riding off into the sunset.
Earlier single ‘Incalculable Things’ is Arborist’s most popular song on Spotify, with over 65,000 plays. It has a more immediately dramatic folk rock style, opening with a heartbeat-like drum rhythm and a haunting guitar melody as McCambridge intones the first vocal line, “well, I received nothing for putting nothing in / it seemed a just reward in truth, so you’d think I’d be content.” The instrumental outro hints at the country style of Arborist’s more recent songs, but it has a bit of a surprise ending in the piano part, perhaps illustrating McCambridge’s overarching lyrical idea that things are not as straightforward as they appear.
Though McCambridge’s sonic palette has clearly benefitted from the added talents of his bandmates and collaborators, the essence of Arborist’s music is in his deeply introspective songwriting and the stark melancholy of his vocal delivery. Those traits speak most effectively for themselves in the following live performance video of ‘The Force of Her Will’, recorded in January for Irish language television channel TG4.
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