Our selection of the best new music across a range of genres from the week ending 15 January 2021.
Pearl Charles has been playing music since she was 5 years old. At 18, she formed country duo The Driftwood Singers with Christian Lee Hutson, singing and playing guitar and autoharp. At 22, she joined garage rock band The Blank Tapes as drummer. After two fun-filled years immersed in the rock and roll lifestyle, she decided it was time to pursue her own songwriting, and began developing the songs that formed 2015′s eponymous debut EP. In 2018, Pearl released debut album, Sleepless Dreamer, which Rough Trade described as “The best country pop we’ve heard in years” and Buzzfeed called her “A modern June Carter meets Lana Del Rey.” On her new release, Magic Mirror, Pearl leans into furthering her own brand of country-disco.
Matthew Sweet played in bands in Athens, Georgia as that scene exploded, collaborating with R.E.M.’s Michael Stipe, playing in Linda Stipe’s Oh-OK, and The Buzz Of Delight. That work scooped him up into the major label world making countless acclaimed solo records, forming the supergroup The Thorns with Shawn Mullins and Pete Droge, and beginning a series of covers albums with The Bangles’ Susannah Hoffs. Now, he’s out by himself again. Omnivore Recordings has just released Catspaw — written, produced, recorded, mixed, and entirely preformed (save Ric Menck of Velvet Crush on drums) by Matthew at his home studio. Mastered by Bob Ludwig, the Hofner bass and Novo guitars sing and howl, harkening back to classics like Girlfriend and Altered Beast — all while retaining the hooks that dig into the listener. Well, like a cat’s paw.
Salute to the Sun is Matthew Halsall’s first album as a leader since Into Forever (2015) and marks the debut of his new band. A hand-picked ensemble featuring some of Manchester’s finest young musicians: Matt Cliffe flute & saxophone, Maddie Herbert harp, Liviu Gheorghe piano, Alan Taylor drums and Jack McCarthy percussion as well as long-time Halsall collaborator, bassist, Gavin Barras who has been at the heart of Halsall’s bands for over a decade. For Matthew it was important to have a band based locally and able to meet and play each week. The album draws energy from these sessions and inspiration from themes and ideas that have inspired Halsall through the years (on albums such as Oneness, Fletcher Moss Park and When the World Was One) ideas of ecology, the environment and harmony with nature.
Inspired by his childhood growing up in the swamps and bayous of Florida, composer Scott Lee’s Through the Mangrove Tunnels featuring the JACK Quartet, pianist Steven Beck, and drummer Russell Lacy is an eight movement album length work whose stylistic flexibility facilitates a multi-dimensional portrait of this unique ecosystem. References to the natural landscape and historical context of the region frame the music in this genre straddling work. Praised as “colorful” and “engaging” (The Philadelphia Inquirer), Scott Lee’s music often takes inspiration from popular genres, exploring odd-meter grooves and interlocking hockets while featuring pointillistic orchestration and extended performance techniques. His music marries the traditional intricacy of classical form with the more body-centered and visceral language of contemporary popular music, creating a complex music of the present with broad appeal. The Berkshire Edge described the world premiere of his Slack Tide at Tangle-wood Music Center as having “moments both of calm and maximum tension…we’ve never heard anything like it.”
Kate Davis co-wrote Sharon Van Etten’s nostalgic indie rock hit ‘Seventeen’ and released her own highly celebrated indie-rock debut, Trophy (2019). Yet even with her impressive resume, covering one of America’s most beloved singer-songwriters is tricky territory to wade into. Nonetheless, that’s exactly what she by recording a cover version of Daniel Johnston’s 1984 album Retired Boxer. Johnston, who died on September 11, 2019 at the age of 58, has long been a beacon to those making lo-fi bedroom pop. In collaboration with the Hi, How Are You Project, a non-profit organization that provides a platform for the exchange of ideas and education on mental well-being, Davis has released Strange Boy, a unique rendering named after the eighth song on Johnston’s original masterpiece.
Frank Iero and the Future Violence aka The Future Violents have released their long-awaited EP Heaven is a Place, This is a Place. The new EP features four emotionally brutal tracks, ranging from unfiltered anger to delicate honesty and everything in between. Heaven… features Evan Nestor on guitar and backing vocals, Murder By Death’s Matt Armstrong on bass, Thursday’s Tucker Rule behind the drum kit and Kayleigh Goldsworthy on keys, mandolin, and violin.
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David Edwards is the editor of The Blurb and a contributor on film and television