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"Holding On" by Lemon Boy and Last Man Standing

Review

Fresh out is the latest collaboration between Lemon Boy & Last Man Standing and together with their previous release, ("Starting To Fall"), "Holding On" will be one of the tracks on their EP.

Last time out, I made the error of trying to work out which of them was responsible for which aspect of the track: not wholly successfully as it happens. Therefore on this occasion, I'll simply go for the whole as an entity and celebrate it for what it is, and not a collection of inputs: for as J R R Tolkien put it, "..he that breaks a thing to find out what it is, has left the path of wisdom".

Their compatibility, as suggested before is very productive and they certainly seem to be working towards similar musical goals: that their skill sets align and overlap to a greater extent than I originally imagined may (presumably) give rise to interesting creative discussions around "who does what" when either might plausibly do many of the writing & performing roles available, but in the end it really doesn't matter too much to the reviewer, let alone the listener.

If you've been following Lemon Boy's musical career to date, you can probably anticipate the general sound: both the delicate ambience of the substantive arrangement & the subtleties & nuances of the textural additions which you become more & more aware of as the song progresses.

The main symbol is in fact a fly, whose buzzing symbolises some sort of caustic & irritating circumstances & memories. This is contrasted with images of going to the sea in order to drown this out & find safe and tranquil mental & emotional harbour. However Luke & Chechu also offer the suggestion that however disturbing memories may be, it might be preferable to retain a little of them for strengthening oneself for challenges to come, rather than attempting to obliterate them completely & hence not process them positively: is sticking your head in the sand all that great a plan?

Complex yet realistic reasoning, the words tell of frustration, stress & turmoil which is rather set against the blissed out soundscape: and as regular readers will know, that sort of contradiction provides a tension & dynamic which I always enjoy in a composition.

Subtle & nuanced music for minds which appreciate such things.

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"Starting To Fall" by Lemon Boy with The Last Man Standing

Review

I must admit that the release of "Starting To Fall", Lemon Boy's latest single, took me by surprise (Luke has been sufficiently busy that prior promotional activities have not really featured this time) but it's a really welcome surprise as it is another beautiful song from this artist, this time in collaboration with The Last Man Standing.

The latter is the pseudonym of Madrid artist Chechu Rodríguez whom Luke met at university. They were in a band together for a year and since then have supported each other's projects, although "Starting To Fall" is intended to be the first of a new series of joint releases under a combined venture.

Lemon Boy's last single was the haunting instrumental "Vänern" and those who have followed his work will already be aware that generally he tells his stories via wordless tracks, painting vivid pictures with sounds.

The new single therefore takes his work into a different direction as Chechu has written lyrics which aim to tell the tale of recovery from a broken heart & the joy of finding new love in such a context: small wonder that they aimed their release date at Valentine's Day.

In fact the partnership between the two artists is as worthy of comment as the one celebrated in the song. Collaborations are a curious phenomenon in the artistic world: some seem very little more than adding a "guest star" to a track for commercial reasons: others suggest more compromise than a single creator might come up with. The ones which work however come up with pieces which exceed the sum of their parts: where the participants complement each other & bring talents & perspectives which drive the track into new areas which neither alone could have managed.

 Clearly here we are not talking about risk taking: these are two people who have worked together before & understand each other's working methods & intents.

The sound of the track is so reminiscent of Lemon Boy's previous work that I feel comfortable assuming that he took the lead on this: exquisite acoustic detailing which shines in the treble range and hints of other cultural inspirations. Chechu I gather was responsible for the words (and you always need to respect those who write so articulately in tongues which presumably were not their first) and the two sit together perfectly: was this a poem set to music or did the words adapt to the tune? You simply can't tell.

What you have is an elegant conception: one where space is as important as the sound which encloses it & where tasteful understatement is the ethos. We should know by now that such approaches are in Lemon Boy's musical DNA, but it's not big surprise to learn that The Last Man Standing makes "..songs that make ambivalence an act of beauty: odes to love with bright and evocative melodies that hide stories of breakup and pain. Minimalist songs performed on guitar with vocals, but that fill the atmosphere with remnants of the great epic pop-folk acts….." which is frankly what you get with "Starting To Fall".

If the sum of the parts exceeds its constituents then what you get is an ideal romantic song: whether you focus on the words or the music or hopefully the fusion of the two. It's not without the melancholia without which the contrast with new love would be less intense but then again Lemon Boy & The Last Man Standing are masters of this. It's also a musical match made in Heaven to rival anything Tinder might have concocted this week..

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"Vänern" by Lemon Boy

Review

For his first release since September's "Never Gone", Lemon Boy has today unveiled "Vänern" for our pleasure.

In some ways it is quite different to his previous work, yet on due reflection, it makes a lot of sense as a development of his craft.

As you'll have seen from earlier reviews, oriental themes and motifs often enhance his minimalist folk structures: reflecting his own younger experiences. These have been used to excellent effect & to some extent I think have represented a sort of trademark sound to date. However it is important for all of us, me especially perhaps, not to get drawn into crossing over from viewing  this characteristic to reducing our expectations of him to this particular approach: too much of that and he'd become a one trick pony in our minds if not his own. Thus, with the new tune, he still delves back into his own personal history, only this time further back, to even earlier days in Sweden. In fact the really interesting thing here is that he is actually travelling further back than his conscious memories allow him, to winter walks (accompanied we assume) round the Vänern lake.

If the well of memory is a powerful source of inspiration for artists, then that of the subconscious one offers intriguing variations: much more fragmented and impressionistic in nature and wreathed in mists of varying degrees of precise reliability on details.

This lends itself perfectly to the task of creating what is in effect a sound picture rather than a song as such (the track is an instrumental) and Luke leaves us to construct our own pictures from the shards of sound he provides us with. Normally I find reviewing instrumentals a bit more challenging than with songs with lyrics: the latter of course don't half provide useful signposts to any intentions of the writer. It's really mainly John Connearn who sets me such challenges regularly from the local scene, but it's good from time to time to put my mind to making sense of pure music alone. I also don't often get to review tracks which use diacritical marks…

The track is quite a jagged one, especially compared with his contemplative previous ones: we can hear the sounds of walking through ice & cracking it, the shifts and collisions of sheet ice on the lake itself, evoked by a gently stabbing and metallic guitar tone, yet this in turn sits on top of a slightly elusive set of mutating melodic parts which twist and turn in the wind and in their way indicate a very tranquil scene: no-one else seems to be on the walk with us and we are passing through a snow white yet desolate landscape where our own footsteps alone contend with what nature would be still singing whether we are there to witness it or not. The crispness of the sound (courtesy of Philip Marsden) serves the track really well too.

I'm pleased Luke has developed his direction to encompass this other form of beauty. It's something he's already proved he does extremely well, yet with "Vänern" he now reminds us how many different beauties there are in our world.

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"Never Gone" by Lemon Boy

Review

"Never Gone", the follow up to his very well received "I Want Your Blue Sky" single from May, will be the latest release from Lemon Boy on 1st September.

As I said when reviewing that last song, I thought it might be his best so far, so how does "Never Gone" manage to succeed it? Well, rather well as it turns out. In fact it very neatly manages to both incorporate his trademark strengths while offering us sufficiently different a sound so as to avoid any sense of the formulaic.

The sonic picture this time is a lot closer to traditional folk than any of his earlier singles, with very little indication of the more eastern cultural nuances in terms of recognisable instruments, though the continuing strong use of space & quietness is still thankfully present and I guess that he takes that from his oriental experiences. The single artwork though is definitely from the East: it's a photo he took in China.

What is particularly noticeable are the vocal harmonies: these work really well and to some extent I think "replace" the multiplicity of instruments, keeping a relativity complex arrangement harmonically without cluttering up the arrangement when that space is really an instrumental part in its own right. Lemon Boy (Luke Bates) provides all these himself & so well does he do this that initially I was going to credit a female singer with one of the parts. Fortunately checking with the artist prevented the embarrassment of such a faulty misattribution. He does it really effectively though!

"Never Gone" itself covers a subject as profound as its predecessor: in this case it focuses upon the problem of letting go: especially of things which are so habitual to us that conceivably they now constitute an addiction of sorts. A nice touch to emphasise this is although the song's verses yearn for movement forwards, the repetitive chorus tends to suggest an endless loop which is hard to break out of. "I guess I'll have to wait for time to run away. And though it's hard to take, tomorrow came today."

Again, as with "I Want Your Blue Sky", the subtle arrangement and performance serve effectively to highlight the words and leave us sufficient time to reflect upon them even as the song itself is still playing.. another of Luke's characteristic strengths I'd say.

The beauty of all his work tends to be in the poignancy of the themes reinforced by the music: this is very thoughtful stuff which can pierce the heart and that is no mean feat. Few ideas for songs are wholly original & much ground has already been broken, yet he is adept at avoiding clichés and themes overworked in the past. His work doesn't immediately bring that of any other artist to mind nor do his songs, "Never Gone" very much included, evoke memories of any others.

As I have said before, Lemon Boy is quietly gaining the respect and attention of more and more people including crucially in the media and it would be nice to think that this single will continue & further that process. I've yet to catch him live either so that is something else to anticipate.

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"I Want Your Blue Sky" by Lemon Boy

Review

"I Want Your Blue Sky" , the next single by Lemon Boy (Luke Bates) is not in fact released until 26th May, but already, thanks to some advance airplay, it is getting extremely positive reviews. Both Ming Nagel (ExileFM) and Toni Peach (HillzFM) had very complimentary things to say about it on playing the song (they each drew attention to its great beauty) and Ming's collaborator at both ExileFM and in Project Blackbird, Jon Read, compared his playing to Nick Drake:  and I don't need to tell anyone reading this what high praise that is.

Although I've praised several of his previous releases, ("Square Times", "Flamingo", "Sea of Stars" and "In Absence", the second of which appears also on ‘Hot Music Live Presents Volume Four'), I find myself inclined to suggest that "I Want Your Blue Sky" may be Luke's best yet. If I have previously cited his superb use of space (it's certainly one of his trademarks), then the latest offering creates even more, indicating perhaps yet more confidence in this approach: you almost hold your breath at times wondering if the silence will end or what might replace it… if Luke is not a follower of Debussy's famous assertion that "music is the space between the notes" then he is certainly working along similar lines.

To separate the spaces, what one does get are exquisite & carefully selected delicate sounds: the guitar Jon likes so much, percussive ones & what sound like woodwind ones, plus of course a very plaintive, ethereal set of vocals (multi tracked it would seem at times), drifting in & out, above & around the other elements.

Lyrically, for the  protagonist  "…hope is visible but out of reach, but he eventually finds comfort in hearing his own voice.." and reflects a time Luke felt cut off from friends & family. I understand that this song is intended to lead us into a new album, which he feels is his "most mature so far" and I think both the increasing dare & panache of this truly individual style he is crafting plus the emotional depth of the sentiments it captures bear this out:  and of course it's not just me. People who know & love their music & speak with a wide range of experience of making it, listening to it & broadcasting it are talking about Lemon Boy.

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"Sea of Stars" by Lemon Boy

Review

I hope you have been enjoying the track "Flamingo" on ‘Hot Music Live Presents Volume Four'? I'm pleased to share with you now the latest ...
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"Flamingo" by Lemon Boy

Review

A few weeks ago, on the recommendation of Callum Ward of ‘Hot music Live Presents' artists Free Galaxy, I reviewed the Kenilworth based ...
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"Square Times" by Lemon Boy

Review

One great thing about "Hot Music Live" is the sense of community & so I'm indebted to Callum Ward of "Hot Music Live Presents" artists Free ...
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