Peter Donnelly, Editor
Peter Donnelly, The Gown Editor, offers you his recommendations on the new music releases. As the Covid-19 pandemic has put paid to live music delivery and stymied the insatiable appetite of music hunters the World over, it is important to be part of the online promotion of new music, musicians, independent venues and platforms.
Featured: Arlo Parks’ ‘Collapsed In Sunbeams’
As the seasons change and Spring rapidly approaches, UK home-grown talent, Arlo Parks’ rise to musical and artistic prominence could not be more timely. It’s an oft-uttered sentiment, perhaps overly attributed to musicians who appear out of nowhere on the music scene and then quite literally evaporate in to the land of nowhere. 20-year-old Arlo Parks is widely, and tightly, considered to be something more uniquely enduring.
She released her new album, ‘Collapsed In Sunbeams’ on 29th January which has undoubtedly set her upon a future course which can but only build on these fruitful foundations. Released on London indie label Transgressive Records, it has already received critical acclaim from a cross-section of the music world – in the media, from musicians and broadcasters. On social media, she expressed her utter amazement with being on prime time TV in the United States.
“Still can’t quite believe I was on US TV – seeing the Collapsed in Sunbeams vinyl in Jimmy Kimmel’s hands.”
It is indeed a tremendous feat for a young woman, who barely three years ago, was hopefully uploading her music to BBC Music Introducing.
Her multi-ethnicity has allowed her to explore live societal issues and make a colossal contribution to the discussion highlighting the challenges and barriers often experienced by people from diverse, ethnic and minority backgrounds.
It seems somewhat obvious to state – yet this statement is in no way misplaced – her music is art. Her attitude and musical approach is a sophisticated, individualism which she has made her own at such a young age. The sound is genre-defining and defying’ it’s Lo-fi indie, ushered through with a socially cognisant R&B dynamic.
‘Black Dog,’ which was the first single to be released by Arlo Parks in the Summer of 2020, has been described by her as a soundtrack summoning societal awareness of mental health and depression. The light-touch instrumentation which follows the track offers a steady reassurance to those who struggle and can relate to such issues. There is no getting away from the depth of the accompanying words, “I would do anything to get you out your room
Just take your medicine and eat some food.”
Her lyrical excursions are firmly set in the times. It is a solidly 2021 project. Yet the issues which she emphasises and successfully navigated in her writing; she paved the way with her opening poetry; transcends the generations – societal inequality, division, misunderstanding and mental health and uncertainty. These are just some of the outward looking themes which penetrates her debut album, co-produced with friend and collaborator Gianluca Buccellati.
Needless to say Arlo Parks has constructed her own introspective nuances within each song to which her audiences are thus far oblivious. The fact that the personal element of live delivery and touring the album is expunged by the Covid-era, remains one of the great impediments to artists releasing new material. Almost one year on since the shutters were latched, the loss of live music is a visceral feeling.
Side Note Recommendations
Madlib – Sound Ancestors
Hebden, said that he had been listening to demos and stems sent over from the hip-hop innovator when “ I had the idea that it would be great to hear some of these ideas made into a Madlib solo album … arranged into tracks that could all flow together in an album designed to be listened to start to finish … we decided to work on this together with him sending me tracks, loops, ideas and experiments that I would arrange, edit, manipulate and combine. I was sent hundreds of pieces of music over a couple of years.” The album possesses a succinctly consistent flow, where the tracks – infused with an established, classic hip-hop sound blended with resonating contemporary sampling – seamlessly transition into one another without blip or hesitation.
‘Sound Ancestors’ is certainly one for the head in these hectic days of 2021. You can find out more about the new Madlib-Hebden production here on Bandcamp.
Sweatson Klank – ‘Path of an Empath’
There’s something of a theme in the new releases, this being the second LA-associated album we feature by the man from the West Coast producer and in-high-demand beat maker Sweatson Klank (otherwise known as Tom Wilson).
Wilson is no stranger to the scene having released music for over a decade on variety of record labels and being a part of numerous projects. He began releasing music under the alias TAKE.
On ‘Paths of an Empath’ Sweatson Klank showcases himself as a skilled producer. So many divergent threads run through this latest album, elevating above that of a mere record destined for the beatseekers. The album is “a tool,” Wilson informs, “to help us escape the prisons of our own minds, even if only temporarily.”
The opening track ‘Form & Formless’ sets the scene for the soothing soundscape which is to come. The tracks are cushioned by ambient samples and the enlightening sound of Spring tweeting of birds and the atmospheric excerpts of nature giving the world a renewed sense of life – goodness knows we’re in dire need of it now.
The album has been credited as being a musical nod to ambient pioneers such as Brian Eno and Hiroshi Yoshimura. This is certainly one to watch as a top 10 electronic album of 2021.
You can purchase the album on Bandcamp.
Bicep – ‘Isles’
Crafted as it was in the depths of lockdown, the Belfast duo Bicep (friends Matt McBriar and Andy Ferguson), did not have the luxury of trialing their productions live on the dancefloors or festivals as usual.
Speaking to MixMag’s Séamus O’Reilly the duo suggest that their latest work had a personal element – going back to the feelings they experienced growing up and the tumultuous political environment in Northern Ireland.
They see Northern Ireland as a world apart in terms of dance music, “Northern Ireland is, separate from all that stuff, just a very conservative place. Dance music felt liberating even in that sense, just to be at those events. Somewhere where off licenses didn’t open on Sundays. Growing up, you’d be hard pressed buying a stick of butter before midday.”
This is the first one on the decks when the dancefloors venues are set for their grand reopening.
You can purchase the album on Bandcamp.
Ani DiFranco – ‘Revolutionary Love’
Consistent with many artists over the past eleven months, lockdown life provided veteran Ani DiFranco with the necessary solace and space to write new material.
She has excelled with flying colours. To unite a world so divided is a mammoth task. ‘Revolutionary love’ was inspired by that wish to unite a world engulfed by so much chaos. The songwriting and jazz musicality of this album gives this album a classic feel. It is a must.
You can purchase it here.
MAST – ‘Battle Hymns of the Republic’
This album is sonically sublime in every sense of the term. It is a jazz album, infused with the elements a lover of jazz would expect. Yet it’s by no means a soundtrack for the lounge. It is underscored by an intense instrumentation, which will have something to do with the hard-hitting themes on which Tony Conley (the head man behind MAST) seems to shine a searching light.
The music is interspersed with the guest contributions of jazz vocalist Dwight Trible (on ‘Benevolence’), Jimetta Rose and Andrée Belle; which further elevates the position of ‘Battle Hymns of the Republic’ to a profoundly contemporary place.
Andrée Belle’s provides her voice to a beautifully, yet devestatingly apt, reconstruction of the Emma Lazarus American sonnet from 1883 ‘The New Colossus’ which personifies America’s strength (in the form of the Statue of Liberty) as a beacon of refuge, hope and sanctuary for the exiled and oppressed. Belle’s words challenge this flawed, yet comforting myth.
You can purchase the album on Bandcamp.
Yard Act – ‘Dark Days’ single
Having first came witnessed the profound, full-force that is Yard Act, during the somber Summer months of 2020, courtesy of Steve Lamacq’s afternoon programme on BBC Radio 6 Music, the band has established themselves as the punks of the ‘20’s.
It’s a gritty yet, crisply succinct delivery by frontman James Smith, delving into the issues afflicting modern day Britain – unemployment, state bureaucracy and uncertainty. These are just some of the discernible topics which are front and centre on the latest batch of songs featured on their latest single, simply entitled ‘Dark Days.’ It is far from a dark album, however.
You can purchase the single on Bandcamp.
Maria Dunn – ‘Joyful Banner Blazing’
Scottish native, now resident of Ontario, folk singer-songwriter Maria Dunn, is part of the traditionalist approach of putting the folk back into folk. Dunn leads from the front.
It would be easy also to invoke the names of contemporary folk artists such as Laura Marling and Emily Barker, as being immediate comparisons to Dunn’s work. True that is in many respects but she has forged a deep connection with the genesis of folk music – the going back to its roots – where strong Celtic elements are attached to the songs of ‘Joyful Banner Blazing.’
That trans-Atlantic, Celtic Connection, thanks to the assonance of fiddles and flutes, is ever present here. What is further to the fore is Dunn’s flair for country, courtesy of the pedal Steele guitar.
You can purchase the album here.