Callum Pitt – ‘In The Balance’

Sounds like … slow dancing on a slackline.

Tingly guitars and soft vocals open Callum Pitt’s debut album In The Balance, as I Feel A God And A Devil In This Room’s swirling strings pave the way towards an inevitable loss of control. Investigating how good and evil incarnate in everyday life in the forms of pleasure and pain, the lead single works as a manifesto for the record’s take on the ups and downs of life. “I feel alone, but I feel in my bones tonight, / Something bigger moving like a tidal wave, a wilting bouquet on fire / I feel a God and devil in this room”, he sings. Born in Callum’s bedroom, In The Balance elevates chamber pop through triumphant orchestral sounds and toys with alternative rock, resulting in a record whose core message comes across loud and clear.

With delicate lyrics and a timbre that echoes Matt Maltese, Callum walks us through the series of unfortunate events that inspired the explorations of existentialism and fate permeating In The Balance: elaborating on a friend’s acid overdose in Black Holes In The Sky, a childhood friend’s suicide in The Will Of The River and a family car accident in Fraction Of A Second, Callum reminds us that bad things happen and that the only thing we can do is give up control and appreciate life’s impermanent beauty.  

On a mission to seize the day and enjoy the present moment, Callum Pitt’s debut is a loud callout to radical acceptance, and, just like he describes in Uncanny Moon, white lilies never fail to push through the winter’s snow to reach sunlight and fresh air. (Giulia Leonarduzzi)

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Hak Baker – ‘World’s End FM’

Sounds like … the soundtrack to the last 24 hours on Earth. 

What radio station would you listen to driving off into the world’s end? East Londoner Artist Hak Baker releases his new record World’s End FM and answers that question. Loaded with nostalgia and emotion, the record takes us from emotive ballads to 00s-inspired electronic indie and 80s synth-laden funk. Throughout the record spoken radio skits remind us that we are still tuning into Hak Baker’s show. The skit Babylon Must Fall (Mc Grindah Skit) and Windrush Baby draw on the artist’s Jamaican roots featuring retro voice recordings of people speaking with a heavy accent. Here the personal is political and Hak Baker sings of gentrification, colonialism, and living in the UK as a Black person feeling like having to “let go of the very strong values we used to have”.

World’s End FM feels like a mixed bag of songs shuffled in random order. Here, this works perfectly to convey the feeling of a radio host pinching whatever they feel like while we ride into the world’s end. A distorted radio interlude is followed by the emotional and restrained I Don’t Know. Hak sings tender-voiced of feeling lost. Like the lead single Windrush Baby and the horn-laced Dying to Live, the songs highlight the artist’s knack for smooth melodies that do bend the lister’s ear with unexpected melodies. Telephones 4 Eyes takes a different shape altogether. It is bassline-driven and fast-paced drawing inspiration from UK punk and New Wave. World’s End FM is musically messy, but it is supposed to be. Hak Baker conveys melancholy and vulnerable emotions through a variety of sounds, the lyrics the guiding light through the mess. Do your thing, the world is going to end – it can be an encouragement to celebrate the joys of today but also a depressing reminder of the state of the world. Hak strikes the balance between those two intense emotions. (Liv Toerkell)

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Sivu – ‘Wild Horse Running’

Sounds like… morning frost melting at the first ray of sunshine.

After a two-album-long, tormented relationship with the music industry, British songwriter Sivu, alias for James Page, retreated to a new, slow life in Cambridgeshire, started a family and let his guitar collect dust in the corner of a room. And yet, with time, Wild Horse Running battled its way through Sivu’s heart: like a horse that had been locked up in the stable for a little too long, the artist’s third studio album explodes with energy and paints Sivu’s truest colours so far. Accompanied by long-time producer and confidant Charlie Andrew, Sivu explores new ways of making music, experimenting with electronic sounds and rawer lyrics, cutting out frills and flounces, yet still ending up with an utterly poetic, delicate record.

In Wild Horse Running, pain and darkness are in plain sight, intertwining with love and sweet melancholia: “The search of something that already saved me / Warm nostalgia greets me cold like a kiss ⟮…⟯ I wanted and I needed a feeling of something more / I wanted / I got it”, he whispers in Morning Sings, the track that, together with Afterglow and Felt, opens up the most vulnerable side of the record.

Wrapping up the record with the bittersweet There Goes Life, Sivu leaves us with a hint of hope: whether or not he will be returning on the music scene full time, Wild Horse Running is proof of the fact that some art rightfully demands to be put out there for the world to see.  (Giulia Leonarduzzi)

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M. Byrd – ‘The Seed’

Sounds like … a wild-hearted sonic supernova.

It only takes some seconds to get hooked by the talent of German singer-songwriter M. Byrd, whose The Seed marks his full-length debut. When Seed, the premiere track of the record, blasts off after its acoustic guitar strum intro into him singing: “And the seed / it had just been sown…”, it is hard to turn one’s back on the brimming life that is breathing through the only two-minute-long entrance into his debut LP. Luckily, the tension remains long after the first impression and showcases the budding finesse of the artist, merging enthusiastic pop twists along with shoegaze-y leanings to give life to his widescreen song creations. 

Flood resumes the hymnic spirit of the introductory Seed and races up to speed out of a pulsating  core, crashing into a euphoric chorus (“And you’re letting go of me / Tonight, we’ll try to split the ocean”), as the energetic spirit is carried through hasty rhythms and ecstatic dedication to melodic precision. Were it not for the exalted pitches, which M. Byrd pulls out on occasions, one might be tempted to see some nods to The War On Drugs here and there, as he skilfully manoeuvres through the adventure of The Seed, which encompasses these rhapsodic art pop sequences as well as more subdued and melancholic tunes such as Gunslinger or the acoustic blues ballad Pyrrhulla, which manifests his reputation as an insightful lyricist with eye for intrinsic detail and a weak spot for quiet tunes. In The Seed, there is enough space for all of that luckily. And while the power-pop euphoria might stick out as defining sonic trademark, it is these mellow delights – including the final Wish I Was – that characterise the hazy emotional landscape M. Byrd has created for his first album. (Andreas Peters)

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Olivia Dean – ‘Messy’

Sounds like … a warm embrace between loved ones.  

Rarely are expectations set as high for a debut album as it was the case for Olivia Dean’s Messy. And even rarer are those expectations just as easily met, if not surpassed. On Messy, Dean shares wholesome memories of her family, but also the worries and sorrows of growing up and apart, all packed up in a suave mix of Brit soul, danceable groove tracks and beautifully vulnerable ballades.

2022 has been a busy year for the London singer. After a year of playing festivals and being on tour, Dean used these opportunities to peak some new material here and there, with Dive being a showstopping number that made me all the more curious about what Dean had in store for us. Now, the time has finally come to enjoy her debut in its full glory. We step from one groovy track to another, from laid-back serenades to more intimate songs. Dean reminisces about the changing relationship we have with family and friends, but also ourselves. The album title Messy encapsulates the emotionality of this journey beautifully. The songs range from bursting with confidence and groove, like Ladies Room, to heart-to-heart moments between loved ones, like the hypnotic Messy (a favorite of mine), and even tragic realizations about you and the people you love, like Hardest Part and especially Everybody’s Crazy.

An absolute stand-out, to me, is the concluding track Carmen. Dean dedicated the album to her grandmother Carmen and in this song, describes the brave decision of the matriarch to leave her home country Guyana at just 18 years old and start a new life and family in the UK. The song feels like a heartfelt, warm embrace between generations, without it being cheesy, or overstating the immense gratitude and love Dean evidently harbors for her grandmother. It’s danceable, soulful, and just so, so good. (Felicia Aghaye)

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