Fresh in from Alcester based artist Euan Blackman is his brand new release "24 Hours 7 Days": just when I imagined that the products of lockdown writing & production were coming to an end, here pops up a very fine example.
As it was recorded in his "childhood bedroom" maybe it epitomises this very curious and unexpected sub genre. As he clearly agonised over every tiny detail in its creation, that too may be an aspect of creative lives which will become in time a tale to tell younger generations. Obsession can be a very dangerous mode but there is no doubt that those sitting in solitude with no other focus than getting it Exactly Right have these past months made some extraordinary music which we never anticipated.
Unsurprisingly, the lyrical focus seems to draw a lot from the lockdown experience (which I suppose sounds like ride at a very bad theme park), yet Euan has had the wit to twist it away from some sort of pandemic self pitying towards an exploration of the sense of separation within a romantic relationship: which is much more attractive as a listening proposition as well as probably setting the song up for greater longevity of popularity. Lockdown as metaphor maybe?
The subject matter therefore occupies a similar temporal space to The Chefs' 1981 "24 Hours" classic and despite being nearly the polar opposite in terms of lyrical direction, shares something of that song's infectious bounce: in this case also hinting at an eventual optimistic outcome which is most welcome: I don't think anyone wants to hear anything too doomed at the moment. Another artist whose work immediately came to mind the first time I heard it was John Lennon: "24 Hours 7 Days" shares a little of the DNA of his dreamy, late Beatles acoustic songs such as "Julia" or "Across the Universe" (with finger picking reminiscent of the former). As he is a student at Liverpool Institute of Performing Arts, maybe that is fitting. Euan may be pretty upset by missing his beloved and being cooped up, but he seems to have a coping mechanism of pastoral mindfulness going on. This is not one of those taut, edgy lockdown paranoia fests.
Very ably aided by Olivia Mayall on backing vocals and Charlie Braddick who mixed and mastered the track, we are reminded too that in today's technological environment, working minutely on a song in your own bedroom by yourself does not automatically exclude others from the creative process nor limit you to a smaller piece of work than you envisage in your mind. I have been overwhelmed almost by how so many people I know have upskilled over the last year and a bit: thinking back to those first few fumbled livestreams on phones set at 90o through learning the basis of recording yourself to realising that you could collaborate on tracks with others anywhere in the world from the comfort of your own home & integrate them into the songs as if they'd been right beside you. I am not sure that people will continue in such a vein now (and I'm sure all my friends who run professional studios would rather that they didn't) but they now have useful extra talents to deploy at need. (speaking of extra talents, the photograph of Euan is by Jack Blackman & Euan himself designed the single's artwork).
You can see a video of "24 Hours 7 Days" at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KtSP9MlABNo
I haven't reviewed Euan's work before, so I'm glad to have a chance to put that right, though I'm not sure how many previous formal releases he has had that I might have written about. He self describes as an artist who "…crafts introspective and evergreen songs for rainy road trips with wistful gazes. There is something of the past in his music, not retrospect, but memories we all share, tales of the human condition in soft focus" and I think either that encapsulates much of "24 Hours 7 Days" or else "24 Hours 7 Days" provides excellent evidence of these qualities. Since I gather an EP is being worked on, with luck, that will give me further chances, but in the meantime, this hypnotic and beautiful song has me hooked.
In the meantime you can catch him live playing in his brother Jack's (who is certainly no stranger to the pages of "Hot Music Live') band The Beautiful Wreck at Lakefest at Eastnor in Herefordshire on August 13th and the Moseley Folk Festival on Saturday 4th September: one presumes these will not feature his own material, so I hope solo gigs will follow in time.
When I wrote last month about the latest single from Tigermask, "Mirtazapine", I told you quite a lot about its parent album ‘Cocoon' which in turn has emerged from its own cocoon this morning. In fact I probably ought to have held back some of the detail for today. Oh well…. To recap though or jog your memories, just as "Mirtazapine" sits in the centre of ‘Cocoon', the album is second in a three album cycle, following 2015's ‘Ovum', so it would help to listen to the earlier album before ‘Cocoon' and if you want to hear how the issues resolve, you'll need to wait for the conclusion of the arc.
‘Cocoon' comprises ten other songs as well as "Mirtazapine": "Mother", "Into The Woods/Cocoon", "Ballad of a Blind Man", "Doppel", "Rear Window", "The Spider", "Seizing the Void", "Homeless_Path #1", "Homeless_Path #2", and "Fever" and as noted in June, the first part of the album concerns the protagonist before he takes the anti depressant and thence the second part charts its (hopefully beneficent) effects upon him: reflecting Tigermask's own decade in the darkness of poor mental health before emerging into the artist we know today, capable of articulating his journey from a safe perspective. Once you appreciate that, then the analogy of the album's title makes much more sense. In fact it was brave of him to remove one track, however pivotal, from the whole to act as a single, as its meaning is greatly enhanced within the context of its setting.
In addition, I recommend your reading the detailed account of the album he has revealed on his website (too comprehensive to reproduce here): https://www.whoistigermask.com/cocoon
It's hard to critique any body of work so intensely personal and playing the songs can certainly give you the impression of being allowed to peer into the privacy of someone else's trauma: not always easy listening, but then I hope that at "Hot Music Live" we do not settle for easy listening and help share more challenging material: especially where mainstream media might be more reluctant. That's not to say that ‘Cocoon' is dissonant nor harsh: there is a great beauty throughout in terms of the sounds, though shot through with melancholia and filtered through our own understanding of what the songs are about.
There are resonances too with the work of other artists whose work is so familiar to us: it's hard listening to "Mother" not to equate some of its sentiments to the pathos of John Lennon's song of that name nor (if you are of such a persuasion) the Pink Floyd one. Equally "Ballad of a Blind Man" may have you thinking of Dylan, though in Tigermask's case, instead of a fierce diatribe against another, the power of the song is aimed solidly inwards. Which may make you flinch a little as I did.
Thankfully, the album is an arc and once past the critical point, the music does mutate into more upbeat forms and become less harrowing in content and if you travel the whole road of ‘Cocoon' then you'll be glad you did. The end of the album offers hope (though resolution presumably will arrive with the final part of the trilogy) and really does not hit you with the full effect of that unless you have experienced the preceding tracks.
Tigermask is a very individual artist and to date has been focused on recording & releasing auto biographical material (although his live set does also feature covers), so it's no surprise that despite the allusions to the work of others, he has adopted a style which not only serves what he wishes to say in the best way, but owes little to others. As I say, beauty and pathos predominate through the very sparse and plangent approach and the quantity of space is more than sufficient to allow the impressions to settle in your minds and ferment. Most tracks have only a single dominant instrument (apart from "The Spider") and thus his voice is central at all times. The music itself often departs into other, non-Western cultural forms, melodies and modes.
I suppose that catharsis plays a very significant role in the creation of the whole three album cycle, and the length of time Tigermask has been taking to hone it suggests not only perfectionism but an indication that the whole process of working through his experiences in song is of value to him. Nevertheless, that in no way suggests that the album comes across as self indulgent nor inwards looking. Quite the opposite: it gives the impression that he wishes primarily to share his experiences in order to help others & communicate to them what he has found beneficial. Each song does stand on its own if necessary & none disappears up itself in terms of accessibility to those of us whose story it is not.
I don't know whether Tigermask has plans to play the album through live as a piece (it needs to be done though) and I fear that not many radio stations would care to play it that way either, which is a shame as it works best as a single, long suite of inter relating pieces. Nevertheless, it is a remarkable achievement and I hope you'll considering listening to it in sequence on the platform of your choice. It may also offer some sense of hope and optimism to those on a similar journey to its creator. I look forwards to the third part of the story.
Unfortunately, it has been over a year since I last wrote about a Rheo release in the magazine and a similar timespan since her "Down For You" appeared on ‘Hot Music Live Presents Volume Three'. However she has been far from inactive in the intervening, admittedly difficult, months, creating a load of great new tracks and evolving into a new artist ID as Rheo Uno with a fresh signature sound.
First out of the traps in this new era is her latest single with the arresting title of "Wife Me?", released today, which has been carefully selected as a bridging track between her previous work and what is coming.
Rheo wrote the original song about two and a half years ago but has substantially reworked it in line with her new visions with the production assistance of Charles Drew of Monarchy Music plus a rap section created by London based artist Chxmpion.
It's intriguing to consider a transitional artefact such as this, but since I've had the chance to hear both Rheo's earlier work and the single due after "Wife Me?" (which is a cracker by the way), I can see her point. If however her fans are thrown into dismay by the prospect of change, quite apart from reminding them that all good artists need to be able to grow and change to fulfil their potential, I can assure them that the development is just that: not violent change to an entirely new format but a building on current strengths by increasing the variety of ways in which Rheo can express herself.
In fact, if one could categorise her earlier work as being dance orientated, then it strikes me that "Wife Me?" and its successor will get you on your feet still. Equally I appreciate her wit & that's definitely still in evidence. The title, as I said above, attracts attention from the word go (no bad thing in the music business world) and from there the lyrics continue in an equally memorable way. In fact, if I had to single out one way in which her decision to move into what she describes as more "commercial pop" has created change, then I think that it would be the way that the mixing reveals the lyrics more boldly: I could also say that it highlights the quality of her vocals more fully, but I suppose the two things come together from the same one process.
As you'd expect with Rheo & her team, the track itself reeks cool class. Beautifully put together, it has a sultry vibe to it and is unusual in being so percussion centred which certainly caught my attention. In terms of Chxmpion's section, I must say I was a little apprehensive. I've heard superb melding of raps into the hearts of songs and I have heard some appallingly artificial ones with barely compatible sections crowbarred together because people thought to do so was on trend. In this case, it works a treat: his section slides in without a perceptible join (there is even a crossover which is a great idea) and he matches both words & delivery perfectly to the whole.
Overall, "Wife Me?" is a joyous track, the teasing being entirely in fun (I think) and as a route from where Rheo was to where Rheo Uno is going, it's totally successful. Which brings me to a crucial point, so I hope you are paying due attention. There is a real danger that in honestly signalling her intentions, Rheo might be suggesting that "Wife Me?" is merely a means to an end. I believe it is a great more than that, and although you & I both understand where she is going, "Wife Me?" is an excellent single in its own right and deserves every success. Not least commercially.
Rheo sounds very confident too: happy with what she is creating and feeling that each song "..is better than the last, developing and building upon the one before and diversifying a little too", which is very encouraging and hopefully will enable her to continue to build a substantial body of work with greater variety and depth than if she had not taken a bold artistic and career move.
Following the very successful release of "Inflamed " in late May, today, Dean MacDonald shares with us the next track from his recent 14 Records recordings for his forthcoming debut solo album ‘Just Me', namely "Unbounded".
If unravelling why these particular tracks are appearing under his own name rather than with his very successful band The Session is becoming an interesting exercise, then I think that "Unbounded" is probably the easiest so far to understand as a pure Dean track.
Over the course of the many Session releases, Dean's lyrics naturally cover a wide range of topics and interests, but if you delve down into them and look for patterns, then you might be surprised how rarely he creates that absolute staple of the songwriter: the love song. I'm not at all sure that he sees this as anything which needs to be "put right": I find him a very confident writer who creates what he feels comfortable with and what he feels he'd like to address: including recently several clear challenges to racism & racists. Nevertheless, he has now written a genuine love song and he describes it as "…an open love song to the wife really. I tend not to write too much soppy stuff but this is definitely one of those", so we can see why he is putting it out as a solo release and not with The Session, as it is simply too personal to do otherwise: it's purely his own message and needs to come across as such. I am interested in Dean's use of the word "soppy" though: it makes him sound rather defensive of writing such material and maybe opening his heart to the world on something quite so personal. However I think that in itself is a strength of "Unbounded": not only as a comparative rarity within his body of work (and let's face it, variety is always a positive), but the feeling that with this song he is stretching the boundaries of his own writing comfort zone only adds greater resonance to the emotional truth and sense of sincerity within it. If he feels a little uneasy in revealing these aspects of his feelings, then I suspect that just adds edge to the honesty. Great truths can sometimes hurt a little & not necessarily in a bad way.
And so it is with "Unbounded": the heart is definitely on his sleeve as we have long come to expect with this artist and the passion and integrity of the feelings expressed unmistakeable.
As I said in reviewing "Inflamed", my initial assumption that "solo" tracks would be stripped back in terms of arrangement compared with his band was far from the mark. Once again Dean & producer Matt Waddell have come up with a rich tapestry of sounds, though admittedly not necessarily the ones The Session might have deployed and this is a joyful rock song with a very gentle intimate feel. He could so easily have gone for a ballad format given the lyrics, but that might have over sentimentalised them. Though gentle, it rocks along like no ballad & very thankfully they have side swerved the dreaded trap of the power ballad in doing so. At times one feels as if one is peering in to the intimate details of a real marriage (well of course that is what we are doing) but not in an embarrassing way: in fact the song, quite properly can be taken as more universal, applying to the experiences of the listener as much as the singer. This move should help ensure its popularity as audiences recognise their own relationships being described.
This single is as radio friendly as everything else Dean has done by himself or collectively and deserves to go onto appropriate playlists: quite what his intentions are for live performances of his solo material remain to be seen at this point, but judging by the myriad of Session gigs taking place (boy are they making up for lost time) there can hardly be the time at the moment for him to consider & schedule occasions on which to play these songs. Given time though, I'm sure people will very much wish him to do so.
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