NewMusicMondays – 30 November 2020

As I hinted in last week’s post, jazz is probably one of those genres where musicians may benefit from the extended opportunity to practise and compose that lockdown has afforded. In other genres you might get away with a few rough edges, and in others it’s even desirable, but lack of technique and emotional power is too easily exposed in the ensemble playing of jazz and that can only come through hard practice. Even so, the lack of opportunities to come together to develop tunes and to play for an audience hurts jazz musicians as much as any other.

One of the graduates of UK jazz’s Tomorrow’s Warriors is saxophonist Nubya Garcia (a jazz name if ever heard one!) and here she is on her lockdown piece, the evocatively and appropriately named ‘Together Is A Beautiful Place To Be’:

Released back in August, this is a soft and gentle tune, with cymbals of percussion wafting over you like the sound of the sea. Heard in November, it’s also the remembrance of summer spent somewhere warm, sun on your back, sand on your feet, ice creams and cold drinks in a shady spot providing an evening’s promise in the golden glow of the early evening. Over a couple of choruses, Nubya’s soulful but commanding tenor delivers the main melody wrapped up in a sound that is both contemporary and entirely classical and which makes it feel like she’s been around for decades.

Some 18,267 plays on YouTube delivers Nubya and her band the grand sum of a maximum of $12.60 – little more than one cocktail plus a few straws in this sort of setting. I’m sure she’d appreciate a few more coppers in the bucket and, if you like the tune well enough to provide a bit more in the way of support, it’s from Nubya’s debut album called Source, released also in August, which can be picked up from her bandcamp – though you’d better be quick as the vinyl’s all gone and there’s literally only a handful of CDs left.

Stepping up the pace a little for my second pick this week is The Tibbs, whose second studio album Another Shot Fired came out on Record Kicks on 20 November. The band, play it raw and gritty in a ‘garage soul’ style, featuring strong rhythm, a tight sound and a brass section so fat and fresh it glistens, and is straight out of not Memphis but Amsterdam. Yep – another retro style updated and made contemporary with a stunning production from Paul Willemson (who’s also worked with Michelle David and the Soul Sessions) and mastered in Nashville by Bob Olhsson, a former Motown engineer. I’ve gone here not for the lead single ‘Damaged Heart’ (on the video for which you can see the band in action and having fun and working hard in the studio), but for the title track, with a hard drivin’ reggae sound, skankin’ guitar, Roxanne’s luxurious delivery of her own words and ohhh that brass section:

It ends far too soon but, before that, it’s 3 minutes (and 12 seconds) of sweat-soaked, body-shakin’, foot-stompin’ glory. There’s no video for this – at least not yet – and it’s clear that the number of plays on this platform aren’t yet going to trouble the YouTube finance department or the Dutch tax people. The Tibbs would, otherwise, no doubt be delighted to accommodate you on their bandcamp where, once again, you’d better be sharp off the mark.

A bonus third track this week fails to make one of the regular choices as it wasn’t recorded or released during lockdown but Blas Festival has been running the past ten days offering a programme of events including workshops, ceilidhs and other events. Tonight’s festival closer was actually recorded a few weeks ago, but Uist’s own Beinn Lee will deliver a ceilidh of traditional numbers and self-penned tunes combining verve and vigour with Gàidhlig spirit and emotion. 2020 was promising great things for Beinn Lee, including new music, but that’s all had to be put aside, at least for now. However, here’s the band on 2019’s ‘Anam Saor’ (‘Free Spirit’):

If you’re tempted by tonight’s St. Andrew’s ceilidh – and remembering that buying tickets for events is also a great way to support musicians during lockdown – you can pick up tickets for the full event for the princely sum of £8 (other pricing points available). Starts at 8; don’t miss it!

NewMusicMondays – 23 November 2020

As a teenager learning the sax, my dreams were probably more in the direction of emulating the thrilling rock’n’roll of Clarence Clemons or the sweetly soulful stylings of Junior Walker, despite the best efforts of Leon Bonewell – my tutor – to get me into Charlie Parker. Nevertheless, I’ve listened to a lot of jazz over the years albeit largely at the more tuneful, melodic end rather than at the end of its more modern forms dominated by experimental squawking.

Jazz has rarely been entirely out of popularity but has in the past decade come back into public consciousness via a few – unsuccessful – Mercury Prize nominations (Kit Downes trio, Gwilym Simcock) and, more recently, the birth of the south-east London jazz scene. Jazz 625 – the BBC programme in the mid-60s credited with popularising a lot of jazz names – was this weekend brought back to life for one night only and it featured many of the current names in jazz, among them Sons of Kemet (again, Mercury Prize nominees) and Poppy Ajudha.

Poppy Ajudha has been around for just a couple of years (a major feature in May 2019, for instance, in the Evening Standard) and, following the inclusion on Barack Obama’s 2018 end-of-year playlist of ‘Disco Yes’, a track on which she featured, her mid-20s star has not so much been rising as shooting. She’s bright, confident and, firmly seized of the fact that life is for living, has realised the importance of having something to say for herself. Here she is on ‘Black Joy. Black Peace. Black Justice’, written during lockdown in the wake of this summer’s Black Lives Matter events in the States: a searing, soaring lament of hair-raising beauty allied to simple guitar chords and, here, gospel-style backing vocals.

On Jazz 625, you can watch her segment, performing the same track and accompanying herself on guitar, at about 1:21. Do try and catch it if you can.

Poppy wasn’t interviewed for the programme, but the programme hosts, drummer Moses Boyd, Tomorrow’s Warriors graduate, and Jamz Supernova, broadcaster, spoke around it of the effects of lockdown in giving artists the space to be able to reflect on the events going on around them in their songwriting and the creative time to make music on their own terms. I suspect that’s more true of some genres than others, and also of some artists than others – for those whose star is short, a lost year of performing can be incredibly damaging, not least in that performance (and merchandising) is the model of how to make money in a music-streaming world, and there is a real danger of being eclipsed by the stars that emerge once this is over. On top of that, the lack of effective furlough for musicians – in sharp contrast to the 1970s and 1980s, when there was some leeway for otherwise-unemployed creative artists – is likely to lead to some taking the decision to give up altogether.

The second track this week is First Aid Kit‘s straightforward cover of Willie Nelson’s ‘On the Road Again’, a track whose opening lyrics emphasise for these times the pain of performing artists being unable to do the job they love:

The track was recorded back in 2013, it seems as part of the studio sessions for what became Stay Gold, the duo’s third album. It features the sisters singing in their own highly recognisable harmonic style and the video is a sweet, fun compilation of moments ‘on the road’ caught on the camera(phone)s of the sisters, as well as their bandmates and roadcrew. It’s also part of an upcoming album, which is great news.

The track was released back in August, and has been done specifically to support Crew Nation, set up by the not-without-controversy Live Nation ticketing operation to support backstage workers involved in putting on live music but currently unable to work because of the pandemic. The Söderberg sisters are donating their proceeds from the track to Crew Nation.

YouTube is, as many readers will know, legendarily at the bottom of the league table when it comes to paying royalties to artists (the reason why the videos embedded in this series of posts come also with links to artists’ own bandcamp pages). Very few ‘YouTubers’ actually make any money off of the platform. What is actually paid by music streaming services is complicated by a number of factors, as summarised helpfully in a blog post earlier this year by Ditto Music, but YouTube pays, according to the post, something like $0.00069 per play (see figure below). The defence is that YouTube Music, the company’s specific music arm, pays a royalty akin to Spotify – which is also lower than the median, the astute reader of graphics will note – and also, possibly, that the views generated by the platform are sizable enough to generate a reasonable return.

First Aid Kit – while clearly not on the Ed Sheeran or Luis Fonsi scale of views, or even that of a certain mid-80s pop sensation – are a well-enough known act. As I write, ‘On The Road Again’ has had just shy of 100,000 plays. At the rate quoted above, this means that the royalties generated from YouTube amount to $68.54 (prior, of course, to all the usual parties taking their cut). Yes, you read that right. It’s shameful. YouTube is a $15bn-a-year business, Google has recently reported (for the first time).

So, do watch the video on behalf of the roadies and backstage crew supported by Crew Nation (and repeatedly, including those pesky ads) – but don’t forget also to buy the track. Direct from the artists, wherever possible; or, at least, from an independent retailer near you. Life doesn’t have to be only for rent.

[EDIT 24 NOVEMBER: Interestingly, the issues of the economic impact of music streaming on musicians was the subject today of oral evidence to the Commons Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee’s specific inquiry – today being the last day for oral evidence although written evidence can continue to be submitted for another week. This blog is expressly on the side of the angels, not the platforms.]

NewMusicMondays – 16 November 2020

No apologies for drawing both choices this week from Saturday’s Funk and Soul Show: I’ve been listening for years and this is one one of the best programmes I can recall with bangers galore, some new stuff and a sprinking of classics, all pulled together by Craig’s exuberance and love for his music, allied to a solid ear pressed firmly to the ground in search of something new (and which also pays respect). If you ever want to hear what funk and soul is all about: start here at six and go all the way up to, er, nine. And did I mention Norman Cook, too?

First up, and happily timed to coincide with today’s launch of the Beard of the Year 2020 longlist, is multi-instrumentalist The Bongolian, with ‘El Beardo’. With a groove that makes it sound like it’s been around for ever, we’ve got a cowbell, handclaps, a stylish horn motif, jazzily soulful Hammond organ, a snappy sax and driving drums. And ear-shattering bongos, too. Not a lyric in sight, and ripe for mixing, this is a theme which is going to kick off a thousand DJ sets, careers and programmes.

The track is drawn from El Bongolian’s Harlem Hipshake LP, which came out on Friday, and it’s great to see it get a bit of wider traction, too. Gid Coe, who played it at the start of his 6Music programme a week or so ago, was listing it as a shoo-in for a potential ‘facial hair special’ programme (Gid’s programme regularly features themed programmes (think e.g. sheds, beer, an annual Tour de France programme, even snooker; and where discerning listeners compete to add the most obscure tracks imaginable to the programme’s playlist) which, if it ever comes off, I can imagine one or two people will be all over. For more on beards, among other things, of course see @kmflett.

Blow Up Records, whose roster includes El Bongolian, seem no longer to be on bandcamp other than historically, but you can add Harlem Hipshake to your appropriately-named greedbag straight from the horse’s mouth.

Also sounding like it’s been around since, oh, about 1969 is Melbourne Douglas’s ‘Rude Boy Don’t Fight’, which came bursting out of the speakers and featuring swirling ‘seaside’ organ and explosive rimshots to to die for. Reggae Dynamite Vol. 2 is so new that there’s no video for it out yet, so you’ll have to make do here with a snippet (@3.28) in the middle of three other songs out on the same EP (and including another Melbourne Douglas track ‘Rudy Skankin’ on the Moon’, trombone to the fore alongside more glorious ear-cracking rimshots).

With a slow-paced rhythm and a time-honoured lyric advising Rudy, for all his street smarts, to take it easy tonight because he isn’t any badder than the other gang whose members have just hit town, Reggae Dynamite vol. 2 is in limited numbers of just 500 on Original Gravity, out just in time for Christmas and now taking pre-orders.

Astonishingly, Original Gravity – and, probably, the whole ‘Melbourne Douglas’, ‘Regulators’ and ‘King Deadly’ featured on the EP – is the work of one man: Neil Anderson, writer, producer, musician, music teacher and recording studio owner, making music in the styles he loves and trying to make them sound like originals. For all that the sound is straight out of 1969, incredibly it’s absolutely contemporary 2020.

It might be on the ‘B’-side of the EP, but ‘Rude Boy Don’t Fight’ should be on the A-list of any DJ worth the salt.

This week we have a bonus track which made my ears stand up as it came out of my radio speakers last week – but, on further investigation, is now six years old so doesn’t qualify as the lockdown music on which this series has concentrated. Kentucky-born Joan Shelley is new to me but anyone who sings with the timbre of Diana Jones (see earlier this series), who borrows a bit from Nanci Griffith and who has the dual guitar style of Gillian Welch and Dave Rawlings (Nathan Salsburg accompanies her here, and elsewhere) is absolutely alright by me. And the opening lyric: ‘Easy now/It’s almost over/The fever will run out/Now the nights are colder’ is fit for these times of struggle; while the setting of this video – musicians playing in front of bookshelves – is also absolutely right for now.

In lockdown mini-gig style, ‘Easy Now’ is backed up by two other tracks, also from Joan’s 2015 folky album Over and Even, and available amidst a wealth of other stuff that I’ll also be checking out, via Joan’s bandcamp. She also has a series of re-scheduled gigs in the UK next May kicking off in Glasgow and featuring a number of iconic venues. Get along if you can and support not only struggling musicians but struggling venues. Let the Music Play!

NewMusicMondays – 9 November 2020

First track this week is a little bit of fun: Mexico’s acoustic metal duo, Rodrigo y Gabriela, have linked up with Pele (scorer of the most audacious goal that never was; the victim of that save by Gordon Banks (RIP); and with a key role in possibly the best goal ever scored) to record a song entitled ‘Acredita no Véio’ (‘Listen to the old man’) in celebration of the great man’s 80th birthday, on 23rd October.

The song is indeed somewhat ‘unusual‘: Rod’n’Gab’s role is limited to supplying little more than a bit of chugging rhythm and a few runs up and down the fretboard; and we perhaps don’t need to be detained for very long by the lyrics other than in their entirely fair admonition not to ignore the elderly just on the grounds of their age. It’s indeed no good getting old unless you also get a bit crafty. Nevertheless, the video is inclusive, as fun as the song itself and it features an old man with a beard as well as a little cameo for Rod’n’Gab, too. The song seems to have been written by Pele himself as far back as 2005, when he was just a strip of a lad of 65, and in a Covid-19 world, it has its place.

Of course, you can pick it up direct via Rod’n’Gab’s bandcamp. I can’t imagine that Pele is on his uppers just yet but all that 60s/70s entertainment on the football pitch has to be worth at least a dollar of anyone’s money.

If you’re looking for a bit more Rod’n’Gab, who are also struggling in lockdown to get a connection with fans, how about this video, in an echo of an earlier post also in this series, with Rod’n’Gab revisiting what is an old classic for them, too. This is part of a series of scenes of the pair shot at home rehearsing tunes and keeping those fingers in shape. I saw them once, at the Hammersmith Odeon, in what was probably the loudest gig I’ve ever been to (and in fair tribute: No Sleep ‘Til Hammersmith indeed). Not bad for two people strumming acoustic guitars.

Another old man well worth listening to is The Boss, whose 20th album album Letter to You came out at the start of November. My copy – grey vinyl and with gorgeous vellum sleeves courtesy of Andy at 101 (who, by the way, also needs your business during lockdown), along with a 4th side which, unusually, has no groove, just an image – arrived on Friday, just as a Democrat victory in the US elections started to become more of a likely reality.

Springsteen famously came out on the stump for John Kerry, Barack Obama (and Biden, as VP) and Hillary Clinton in elections previous – not so for Biden this time; I imagine he might have been more persuaded had Bernie Sanders got the nomination although these are of course entirely different times for all of us. Nevertheless, he did allow his music to be used in a couple of Biden campaign ads while he also (re-)produced a powerful excoriation of the lack of humanity at the heart of the Trump Presidency as part of his regular ‘From My Home to Yours’ lockdown radio show, (episode 14: ‘Farewell to the Thief‘, recorded as an eve-of-election special).

This is the first E Street album not to include posthumous contributions from Dan Federici and Clarence Clemons, with Charlie Giordano and Jake Clemons now listed as E Street Band members – I guess that particular well must have finally run dry. The album probably does belong to drummer ‘mighty’ Max Weinberg, whose unfailing power drives and energises the whole set. It’s hard not to see this as a valedictory collection, given the song choices and the sequencing, certainly as regards the ‘heart-stopping, pants-dropping, house-rocking, earth-quaking, booty-shaking, Viagra-taking, love-making – Le-gen-dary E – Street – Band! If so, what a way to bow out (and there will, CV-19 and the Grim Reaper permitting, be a tour in 2022).

I’ve picked here ‘Burnin’ Train’ – trains, almost as much as cars, drive the Springsteen oeuvre: it’s the connection back to Woody Guthrie, firstly; but also the imagery features frequently in his own songwriting. It does share a bit of DNA with ‘Long Walk Home’ (another topical song with current resonance) from 2007’s Magic. The video’s not up to much – just that fantastic shot of Springsteen in New York during his Broadway run, with an animation of snow falling (a current motif; and which also drives Thom Zimny’s film documentary release of Letter to You, now released as an Apple TV Original) – but listen to the power of the band and of Springsteen’s lyrical imagery:

Turn it up! That oncoming big black train ain’t gonna smack into us yet!

Not bad for an old guy of 71, and band members who are all, Jake apart, all around the same age.

The album was famously recorded almost exactly a year ago as a whole band performance in less than a week – the first time in 36 years (when, incidentally, Jake was 4 years old) – which clearly couldn’t happen in 2020. There is better film of the song, though you need to wait right to the end of Zimny’s film to catch it. ‘Burnin’ Train’ also features in Episode 5 of ‘Letter to You’ radio – a series of broadcasts recorded also for Apple Music, this one with Springsteen in enthusiastic conversation, not least about the album’s recording process, with long-time collaborator and fratello, Steve van Zandt.

Enjoy! ¡Disfrutenlo!

Book review: The Constant Rabbit

The rather cryptic reference at the foot of the previous #NewMusicMondays post, about a rabbit holding an accordion by a stone marker at the end of the Julia Jacklin video, was a bit of a link to what was then planned as my next post (this one): a review of Jasper Fforde‘s The Constant Rabbit, published at the start of July. A happy, and entirely unplanned, coincidence.

There are no rabbit-playing accordions in The Constant Rabbit – but perhaps there could be: an apparently spontaneous, but unspecified and probably unknowable, Anthropomorphic Event happened back in 1965 which saw eighteen rabbits, alongside some other animals, take on human characteristics so that they become part-human while still retaining their animal characteristics. The rabbits are 6′ tall, use human language, they reason, decry the pictorial representation of rabbits in human culture, live in houses, go to the cinema, shop in supermarkets and drive cars (slowly) – but are vegan, continue to burrow, enjoy the delights of lettuce and, well, being rabbits what was a few has now become over 1.2m in the UK alone. Faced thus with a rapidly growing humanised rabbit population, a post-Brexit UK, headed by Prime Minister Nigel Smethwick’s UK Anti-Rabbit Party, also has a solution – ‘Rabxit’: the packing of all rabbits (who are, largely, already segregated) off to a MegaWarren in Wales, aided by the middle-class militant thugs of ‘TwoLegsGood’.

In my review of Fforde’s previous novel, Early Riser, I noted that the somewhat whimsical tone of much of Fforde’s (otherwise engaging and interesting) work (his debut novel was in 2001) had taken on a significantly dystopian note. 2010’s first volume of Shades of Grey (the long-awaited second is now formally planned) likewise. With humanised rabbits the theme of this work, you might be forgiven for thinking this is a return to whimsy – but this would ignore the deeply allegorical, and utterly chilling, nature of the novel. Take the Prime Minister, for example, whose name is extremely well-chosen: Nigel is of course evident, especially given the initials of the party he leads; but Smethwick – well, back in 1964 (one year before the event initiating Fforde’s novel), Smethwick was the electoral constituency which defied the national trend and went Tory, and where campaigning was famously accompanied by the slogan ‘If you want a nigger for a neighbour, vote Labour’.

The central theme of The Constant Rabbit is, therefore, racism and, quite specifically, the modern notion of ‘replacement theory’, with UKARP expressing fears around ‘litterbombing’ – fast-breeding rabbits soon outnumbering humans in their own country. Fforde uses the duality of the novel – rabbits make fine neighbours since they are unselfish, live in harmony with the environment and practise sustainability while having a strong sense of social responsibility; but are the targets of a peculiarly English type of casual racism (class snobbishness mixed with outwardly pleasant indifference but disguising cold rejection) – in a way in which wit, satire and intelligent humour are allowed to carry the novel’s predominant approach to its theme.

It is of course difficult to carry off a treatment of an extremely serious issue by using humour. Fforde is clearly aware of this and has expressed in several interviews (in a podcast for the New Books Network, in a piece in The Guardian, and an interview for SciFi now, for instance) that he is alive to the dangers of someone – never discriminated against once, in his entire life and with all the luck of privilege being defaulted to him at birth – talking about racial discrimination and prejudice. He has also posted a reading list on his website, and it’s clearly informed by some important works, Reni Eddo-Lodge‘s among them.

He addresses this not by trying to put himself into the shoes of someone without that privilege – an object of racism – but by putting it from one of the other sides, not from the perspective of a worst-of-the-worst member of a hate group but from someone whose unthinking ignorance and bystander complicity has allowed such a group to continue their narrative unchallenged and away from the spotlight. Peter Knox – likeable, but spineless and also flawed – is the central human character and the narrator of the novel who works for the Rabbit Compliance Taskforce: an agency charged with enforcement activities because of his ability to tell rabbits – which otherwise all look alike – apart. Humans don’t come out of the novel particularly well, being substantially leporiphobic, regarding rabbits in all the demonising and dehumanising ways in which one group will ‘other’ a minority group, and the plot of the novel concerns the extent to which Knox (and, by extension, humans more generally since he does stand as a privilege-based ‘everyman’) is able to redeem himself.

It’s also a valid criticism that Fforde risks trivialising the issue firstly by using (evidently non-human) rabbits as his minority group. Allegory and tragi-comedy, however, has a long-standing role in pointing out failures – TwoLegsGood is, of course, a tribute to Orwell’s own allegorical powers in Animal Farm – and I think is justifiable in a literary context. Humans are fully capable of mixing, at one and the same time, the cruel and the unpleasant with the comedic – Fforde has, for example, pointed in interviews to the role of M*A*S*H in mixing laughter alongside the evils of war, while the science fiction of District 9 uses comedy to sharpen the sense of tragedy. A book without comedy is indeed not a book about human beings and, consequently, the comedy makes the darker themes more recognisable and therefore more identifiable and, as a result, it is easier to be more empathic about the lessons being demonstrated. A spoonful of sugar may indeed help the medicine go down.

Amidst the humour of the opening chapter’s ‘Speed Librarying’, enforced as a result of cuts with the resource going instead fully into the monitoring of libraries’ compliance with the new rules (in a parody of curtain-twitching watch schemes), Fforde has written some genuinely horrifying scenes: Mr. Ffoxe (foxes and rabbits of course do not mix) is a terrifying character; while one scene set in a prison (which, otherwise, contains two of about the only good humans in the book) is quite shocking. Amidst the comedy, such moments of pure evil have to work if Fforde is to carry off his purpose.

Fforde’s ultimate message here is, I think, a two-fold one.

Firstly, that the Anthropomorphic Event contains a message: the rabbits came with a warning for humans also about the unsustainability of our ways and what we are doing to the planet. Furthermore, in listening to others tell us of their alternative conception of the fundamentals on which a society should be based, we are allowing them to teach us: and we all of us need to be reminded of that.

Secondly, that we can no longer stand by when something has become obvious which was hitherto invisible. Individual and incremental, not heroic, action can be enough given that we are ‘not all revolutionaries’ and that ‘enough people challenging the problem can make a difference.’ Choosing no longer to be ‘constantly rabbiting’ on about a subject (one of the ways in which the title of the book works on several different levels), but deciding, as a result of realising the need no longer to be in denial, to increase our self-awareness and then to convert that into action is one way in which we can stop being, like Knox, an unconscious part of the problem. For Fforde, if readers ‘laugh when… reading this book, and frown a little when… finished – and that together, eventually, as part of a much larger and broader and more principled coalition, we can start to loosen some bricks in that wall’ the work will have served its purpose.

About the chances of this, Fforde seems in conclusion to be mildly optimistic – although with the clear warning that messages such as this one don’t come along very often; and that, critically, as Smethwick well realises, ‘the language of division can always be monetised’.

NewMusicMondays – 2 November 2020

Picking up the threads from last week’s #NewMusicMonday choices, first up this week (and not only because they were gracious enough to like my tweet for last week’s post featuring Rozi Plain – that would be terribly, shamelessly venal of me) is Lost Map‘s Firestations, whose ‘Automatic Tendencies’ EP is out ‘on or around’ this coming Friday. From it, here’s ‘Small Island’:

There is apparently a video associated with this from Jack Alexandroff, an award-winning animator, featuring ‘striking time-lapse footage of clay statues melting, islands dissolving into seas of milk and watercress growing from clenched fists,’ which not only sounds absolutely fascinating but an apt description of the small island life of the title (though surely ‘watercress’ is the townie version, rather akin to ‘creamed avocado’ in the Hartlepool chip shop – they must mean chondrus crispus). Regardless, Lost Map seem to be hanging on to this piece of artistic wonder for the time being, so you’ll have to make do with staring at a fixed image while Firestations’ music, pastoral yet gently insistent driven by melancholy guitar counterposed against cheery synths, and soaked in harmonies, washes over you. Dreamy yet with a surprisingly upbeat chord on which to close, ‘Small Island’ conjures up the impression that a ‘familiar future’ may not after all be something to fear.

In yet another Lost Map marketing masterpiece, ‘Automatic Tendencies’ is in line for no less than three releases over the next six months, each one accompanied by alternative versions, covers and remixes as well as a collection of artworks curated by Firestations member and visual artist, Laura Copsey. The first set – of an extremely limited release – is already sold out, but you can pick up a copy, or bide your time for a future release including artwork, at Firestations’ bandcamp.

‘Small Island’ had two plays on Marc Riley’s show this week, the second accompanied by the comment about how good it was when bands just tip up from nowhere as the finished article. Firestations have been around for a couple of years but this was otherwise typically apt from Mr. Riley: Firestations have an accomplished vibe which makes them seem like they’ve always been making hits.

Also of a wistful orientation, the second track this week is ‘to Perth, before the border closes’, by Australian artist Julia Jacklin. Having lived in St John’s Toun myself, I’m naturally attracted to anything with ‘Perth’ in the title and the notion of getting there before the border closes thus makes a connection for me. Written earlier this year while Julia was striving to get back home before Australia’s Covid-19 quarantine lockdown shut her out (and closed down her tour promoting her album), the video includes a succession of scenes of smalltown, sleepy rural life with a recurrent motif of eyes watching you amidst important ‘stay safe’ messages, both old and new:

With its refrain of ‘everything changes/is changing’, ‘to Perth…’ well encapsulates the mood of 2020 – of life being oddly on hold, as if in a dream; while Julia’s gentle minor key strumming and vulnerable vocal echoes a timeless 60s folky country rock vibe whose specific origin just eludes you; before, that is, the drums step in (and later step up) to remind us that this is not a dream, but real, with the present time (and the future) carrying an urgent unseen danger. Isolation presents specific challenges but the positive side of the double meaning implicit in the song’s closing lyric (‘I’ve got a feeling I won’t do it alone / It’s just a feeling though’) highlights that everything does change and, if we’re all isolated, that the collective nature and spirit embodied in us all doing that, to keep each other safe, may yet help to bring us together.

Released on October 12, you can pick up ‘to Perth…’ alongside ‘CRY’, it’s double A partner and which has also attracted a bit of radio play, at Julia’s bandcamp for the princely sum of a couple of dollars.

Hauntingly, in a closing scene to the video, a carved clay rabbit wields an accordion by a stone marker, silently observing…