Billy Nomates – ‘CACTI’

Sounds like … raw and emotional rebellion in bedroom pop disguise.

When it comes to wearing your heart on a sleeve, Billy Nomates does not shy away from harsh, emotional truth. The self-titled debut album from the Bristol-based songwriter, producer, and multi-instrumentalist was an indie music treasure easily overlooked in the chaotic 2020. But it turns out that it was only the start for one of the scene’s brightest talents. As a much needed female take on the punky Iggy Pop and Sleaford Mods formula (who turned out to be early supporters of her work) Billy Nomates was on fire and luckily she continues to be on her sophomore full-length. CACTI marks a big step forward. Still breathing the indie bedroom pop spirit, the record sees the Brit exploring new levels of depth and vulnerability. Especially that fragility is a key theme on the album that start with the fitting line “my inner peace is broken into five”Balance Is Gone opens the album with furious beats and a playful guitar, just like we have come to know it from the debut. Later on, sees Billy embraces the lighter sides of life like in the uplifting Blue Bones where she triumphantly sings “death don’t turn me on like it used to.”

Apart from that, Billy Nomates makes room for more gentle moments like Black Curtains In The Bag or the reflective Saboteur Forcefield, which highlights her powerful voice in a different and more soulful way. The tender ballad Fawner is a flirt with Americana folk and it is definitely one of the hidden highlights on this album. Billy Nomates sees radical openness as a weapon to deal with all the negativity around. Her rawness shines through, not just in an angry way, but also sensitive when she deals with depression and self-sabotage. In between that we are still getting memorable fighting anthems like Spite and lines like “don’t you act like I ain’t the fucking man”. CACTI’s gentle lo-fi bedroom pop takes a more defined turn towards pop without sounding forced or pretentious – another big strength of this sophomore album. Billy Nomates keeps things real, raw, honest, and entertaining as she continues to establish herself as a force to reckon with. (Norman Fleischer)

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WILDES – ‘Other Words Fail Me’

Sounds like … a tender and soothing journey towards self-love.

“Why’s the melody sitting like a lump in my throat?”, singer-songwriter WILDES, aka Londoner Ella Walker, asks in the brief and yet mood-setting opener Woman In Love. In all its anger and defiant character, the beauty and pain are at a stand-off, a conflict which shall be essential to her debut LP Other Words Fail Me. Coming to full bloom after a long and intense period of successful singles, EPs, but also a period of struggle with the label she freed herself from, WILDES’ first record is one of great intensity that channels and chronicles the inner workings of liberating herself – from an estranged and toxic relationship and towards self-acceptance and self-love. “The main pillar of the album is finding myself and standing up for myself and letting myself have a voice for the first time”, Walker uncovers in our recent talk with her and this record represents this challenging journey better than any words could.

There is naturally great intensity at work from start to finish of Other Words Fail Me, whereas the sensitive touch partly dominates the louder and more furious residing passions, as heard on the rugged and fierce opener Woman In Love. Championing the art of the ethereal piano ballad, the majority of the record has such a dense and lush texture to it that one cannot escape but feel moved to the very core. Lightly is one of these intoxicating pieces, rushing on with a forceful and yet solemn sonic realm (“Maybe I love how I feel in the wind / I’m the breeze / So light”). The guitar-infused Flames is another of these gems – slowly building up a structure of heartfelt passion, heading over into quite the ferocious finale, added on by the most mellow symphony of strings,  drums, guitars and the piercing voice of Walker, giving the performance everything she possibly could: “But I feel awake / And I need to change / There’s never an easy way / I’ll run to the flames”. 

Pieces like the more upbeat Just Like You lift the veil of the dream pop atmosphere a bit, only to be drowned in the gloomy and sentimental rivers once more (Real Life, Anytime, you name it). All the while, Other Words Fail Me works towards a silver lining, somber as the realities of the songs may feel like. The ultimate True Love (Make Me Believe) is a stunning example of that lifted spirits and sparks with a powerful glow, evolving into an intense and passionate anthem of self-forgiveness and newfound liberation: “Look in my heart and the mark you made on me / We’re here for eternity / You’re so scared to have faith in the world, but / I wanna make you believe, in / True love”(Andreas Peters)

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CVC – ‘Get Real’

Sounds like … pure pop nostalgia.

CVC, or as spelled in full, Church Village Collective are on quite the lucky streak, kicking off the year 2023 with their debut LP Get Real, after their successful and grooving Real To Reel EP last year. The sextet, growing up in a quiet Welsh town just some miles north of Cardiff have, by means of furious live performances, evolved into a powerful pop act, building their vibrant harmonies and explosive feel on the roots of the great classics such as The Beatles, Neil Young and The Beach Boys – music they listened to when they were young. All the while, on Get Real, they are translating the retro drive into an intoxicating feel of a hymnic pop happening, fuelled by the spirits of old, and hailed by the hopes of tomorrow.  

Hail Mary kicks off the fun affair in a loose and symphonic clash of guitars and three-voice vocal harmonies, groovy catchlines and jumping bass lines. There is an easy feel to it, which doesn’t break off any time soon, as Winston or Sophie demonstrate, the latter one being disguised as a cheesy and straightforward love song, sparkling with intense enjoyment. From a technical side, CVC remain in their safe realm, not seldom drifting off into Beach Boys-esque humming routine and offbeat acoustic guitar strumming, making all too well easy to fall into nostalgia hole – that is, if you enjoy the references of course. If you do, it is an enjoyable ride to go on, for instance on Anogo, which develops an unforgettable flow and rejoices with purpose and merriment. You will not find a song straying out of line of the general upbeat character, for Get Real is a confession to the authentic art and the purity of sound. As such, it is a worthwhile record, just the right silver lining and easy listen one needs in these rotten-cold winter days. (Andreas Peters)

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Siv Jakobsen – ‘Gardening’

Sounds like … an exercise in digging and growing.

If you have ever come around to it, you’ll know that the act of gardening can result in an intensely cleansing and meditative process. Such is the focal point of Norwegian folk singer-songwriter Siv Jakobsen‘s new record, whose return to her native town Oslo in 2021 triggered a mass of old haunts and “destructive” memories, she decided to confront, and exterminate them by the roots, if you will. Gardening, the first half of it released last year, is the result of these struggles, and the songwriter unfolds an expansive web of human struggle and intimate emotions along the process, untangling the knots in her mind. It was almost as if I had been in a time machine and suddenly I felt like I was in the past”, she shares. I felt confused what time it was, what year it was, and who I was.”

Her most expansive and intimate record to date, Gardening is indeed linked by its central theme, as Jakobsen admits: This record is me doing an intense amount of emotional gardening. I was just raking through my mind and pulling stuff up, and then it grew back again, so I pulled it out again”. The songs itself, all the way from the opening Small to the ultimate The Bay are a compelling journey in mellow, soothing acoustic pieces, largely accompanied by her guitar, occasionally joined by strings, horn and piano sections. Unobtrusive and yet enticing in its own familiar way, tracks like Romain’s Place, Birthday or Tangerine unfold slowly, always remaining in their own intimate realm. They never force you to engage, although there is a dark and alluring core at work in all of them. The following Blue is another example of that, dealing with an abusive relationship and following a strong narrative thread, while on a sonic level remaining dreamy and soft on the outside. Sun, Moon, Stars, featuring Ane Brun is another symphonic highlight and lifts up the general gloom of it all by the blissful harmonious touch. And in the end, this is what remains of Gardening, a heavy and yet uplifting set of songs, making you ponder about life in the past two or three years, bringing forward the confidence that the light shines through, if you have made way for new seeds to grow. (Andreas Peters)

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The Murder Capital – ‘Gigi’s Recovery’

Sounds like … existential crisis wrapped in a gloomy sound design.

Back in 2019 two Irish post-punk debuts shook the scene, they were similar in spirit yet different in style. While Fontaines DC took a more direct and raw approach on Dogrel, their colleagues The Murder Capital provided a more cinematic and even darker approach on When I Have Fears. Four years later, Fontaines DC are already three albums into their career, so it’s time for the The Murder Capital to catch up. That initial starting point is where most of the similarities end. The sophomore album Gigi’s Recovery heads in a different direction. It’s a bit more of everything – in a good way. The noisier parts are noisier, the quieter ones are quieter, and in-between there’s room for a gloomy musical cosmos that’s way richer and more complex. According to the band “mood and melody” were key aspects when it came to the writing and recording of an album, which saw the band reflecting on personal relationships and existence itself. Yeah, I mean, when else than during the global crisis of a pandemic is a good time to do exactly that – reflect on life and our part in it. “Existence fading” feels like a fitting mantra repeated by singer James McGovern in the intro. The disturbing feeling continues with Crying, a song that delivers a fascinating build-up and a mighty finale.

The sound of The Murder Capital has already been quite intense on their debut record, but the textures got even richer on this follow-up. There’s a hunger for complex structures, harsher breaks, and surprising moments. While you still got more traditional post-punk tunes like Return My Head there is also room for a sparse ambient-infused piece like Belonging. The journey remains unpredictable. Ethel, one of the most emotional songs on the album comes with twisted string arrangements and a structure that makes you feel the emotional turmoil McGovern goes through. On the other hand, there are songs like The Lie Becomes The Self where the band easily switches between a tender piano melody, acoustic guitars, and their usual noisy heaviness. Gigi’s Recovery is a fascinating ride into the newly found confidence of a band that only got started. Yes, it is indeed the complicated second album, but it masterfully succeeds in extending the musical cosmos of The Murder Capital, adding layers of emotional depths, complexity and surprising twists to the familiar post-punk formula. Luckily, there’s no need to declare a winner in the battle of gloomy Irish groups as both are on fascinating paths. For now, the one of The Murder Capital leads further into the heart of darkness and you’re all invited to follow. (Norman Fleischer)

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Lakecia Benjamin – ‘Phoenix’

Sounds like … jazz conversations between legacy and future.

Endurance, perseverance, and sharp attention to technique and detail have always shaped the music of saxophonist Lakecia Benjamin. Her jazzy style echoes the greats like Alice and John Coltrane, who the artist dedicated her last record Pursuance to. Now, she is releasing Phoenix. The 12-track album may not be a rise from the ashes, but rather a golden feathered continuation of the talent of the saxophonist. Either raw or polished, Lakecia Benjamin knows her instrument so well that she can make it speak whatever language she wants it to. On Phoenix, that is the language of dynamic exchange and dialogue between the driving double bass lines, the Hi Hat heavy jazz drums, and the political force inherent to the genre.

While Lakecia Benjamin’s saxophone can speak volumes on its own, Phoenix is accompanied by other powerful voices starting with Amerikkan Skin featuring political activist Angela Davis. On Blast and Peace Is A Haiku Song, the conversation is carried on with Sonia Sanchez. “Peace is a human right”, she repeats, and the raw recital of the lyrics is uplifted by the melodic saxophone play. The words don’t just function as another texture of the song using distortion and retro sound effects, but they also give the otherwise instrumental record a more explicitly political angle, making a statement for Black solidarity and power and against racist and sexist violence. Alongside and with Trane, Basquiat and Wayne Shorter, Lakecia Benjamin builds on music legacy on Phoenix. (Liv Toerkell)

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Note: This album will be released on January 27.