5. BC Camplight Is Surprisingly Alright
Manchester-based songwriter BC Camplight has been going through something of a creative hot patch ever since he arrived in the UK. From the break-out moment that was 2015’s How To Die In The North, through to 2018’s bleakly brilliant music on the UK’s immigration policy, Deportation Blues, he has felt very much an artist on the rise. This was cemented by last year’s release of Shortly After Takeoff, the final record in what songwriter Brian Christinzio lovingly refers to as his Manchester trilogy. While Shortly After Takeoff felt like it might be a record that propelled BC to the next level, 2020 had other plans. Thankfully, this week he has been able to at least re-book some tour dates, which he shared alongside a surprise brand-new single, I’m Alright In The World.
The track serves as something of a mantra for Brian, as he explains, “for the first time in my career I’ve created something that speaks to me, reminding me to breathe and be alright in the world…even if that world is on fire”. It’s not just thematically, but musically that this is BC Camplight at his most serene. The track is built around a steady pulse of warm keyboard chords and Brian’s warm, reverberating vocals, the whole thing feels like a weighted blanket, a cocoon away from the world at large and the difficulties it throws our way. As the track drifts out on distant brass, it’s hard not to believe the repeated refrain, “I’m alright in the world, I’m alright in the world”, and for those minutes you really feel like that’s true.
I’m Alright In The World is out now via Bella Union. For more information on BC Camplight visit http://bccamplight.co.uk.
4. Squirrel Flower Starts A Tire Fire
Next month will see the much-anticipated release of Planet (i), the new album from Boston-based musician Squirrel Flower. The musical project of songwriter Ella Williams, Squirrel Flower emerged back in 2015 with the brilliantly atmospheric EP, Early Winter Songs From Middle America. Since then, Ella’s music has drawn an ever-increasing fan base, culminating in her 2020 debut long-player, I Was Born Swimming. With any touring plans Ella had for I Was Born Swimming cancelled, it gave her time to work on the follow-up, recording with producer Ali Chant in his Bristol studio, The Playpen. While Ella and Ali play most of the instruments on the record it also features the likes of drummer Matt Brown and Portishead’s Adrian Utley, as well as a series of guest vocalists from Tenci’s Jess Shoman to Ella’s father, Jesse. Another vocalist who features is Newcastle-based songwriter Brooke Bentham, who contributes vocals to the latest track to be shared from the record, Flames and Flat Tires.
While much of Planet (i) was written before she came to the UK to record it, Flames and Flat Tires was written on English soil. Ella recalling that it was written in her hotel room when she was quarantining ahead of the recording sessions. Flames and Flat Tires opens with a muted throb of bassy guitar chords, it initially feels thick and engulfing, like wading through a vat of treacle. Gradually the track seems to expand, instruments and melodies arriving like pops of colour in a grey day. Before you know it the whole thing feels huge, a cacophony of buzzing guitar solos and soaring, almost choral vocals. Lyrically, the track continues the apocalyptic vibe present in much of the material shared from Planet (i). Here it seems to take on an almost Mad Max feel, as Ella’s beat-up car requires parts, is possibly on fire and is definitely not passing its MOT, yet despite that, it seems to be the least of her worries, “I’m getting back on track, soon enough, and you’d better watch out for me, flying down the road in flames and flat tires. Trying to recall how the rain felt on my skin and scream to anyone who’ll listen”. Planet (i) is named in honour of an apocryphal second planet for humans to relocate to. Instead of presenting this as a blessing though Ella seems to see it as an inevitable victim to the plague of mankind, a beautiful world waiting to be ravaged by the inhumanity of humanity. Bring on the flames she seems to say because we get what we deserve.
3. Never Alone Again CIEL’s The Deal
I have been a fan of CIEL for several years now, in fact, if you’ll forgive a brief plug, I like them so much they are scheduled to play my first post-lockdown live show with Scared To Dance at The Victoria on June 26th. Originally from The Netherlands, CIEL have subsequently re-located to Brighton and won an array of support, with their 2020 EP, Movement, drawing particular acclaim from the likes of 6Music, Clash and Under The Radar. This week the band have shared their latest single, Never Alone Again, the first material from recent sessions the band recorded with producer, and Blood Red Shoes member, Steven Ansell.
Described by frontwoman Michelle Hindriks as, “very personal and intimate”, lyrically, Never Alone Again is an open-hearted exploration of previous trauma. How it is often easier to feel nothing than to confront it, as Michelle sings, “I’m so crippled by memories, often stuck in this tendency, trying not to feel much anymore”. If this is CIEL at their most straight-talking lyrically, musically too it seems to be delightfully stripped back. Michelle’s vocal is high in the mix throughout, atop an ever-shifting backing of searing synths, drum machines and a bassy pulse. With its glacial take on synth-pop, it’s reminiscent of acts like Patience or Kraków Loves Adana. This feels like a leap forward for CIEL while they have always sounded great, here they seem to tap into something more unique and intriguing, with Never Alone Again, CIEL have truly arrived.
Never Alone Again is out now. For more information on CIEL visit https://cielcielciel.bandcamp.com.
2. Sharon Van Etten And Angel Olsen Take Us Back To The Good Old Days
Sometimes artists who have no clear connection become entwined in your mind, whether that connection is via location, style or simply timing. It is certainly the case with Sharon Van Etten and Angel Olsen, two songwriters bound in my mind by seemingly arriving into the world at a similar time, and instantly turning music on its head. Frankly, they’re two of my favourite musicians, singers and songwriters of this or any era. The two have both admired one another’s work from a distance, meeting on the road several times, as they put it, “highway high-fiving”, as they wind their way around the well-worn touring routes. Back in June 2020, the pair started to discuss working together on something, Sharon approaching Angel with a song, and the idea of collaboration was born. This week saw that collaboration see the light of the day, as they shared their new single Like I Used To.
There’s a joyous innocence to Like I Used To, the sound of two artists casting off any expectations the world has and simply having fun. It is reminiscent, as the title suggests, of the way they used to record before there was any pressure to live up to. There’s something triumphant about this song, a driving arena-worthy number as anthemic as Springsteen and as polished as Fleetwood Mac. While the voices are predictably wonderful, it also feels like an aside from either songwriter’s own work. Here they seem to be celebratory, revelling in this joyous ode to claiming your own space in the world. My only complaint is that nothing could really live up to how exciting the prospect of a duet between Sharon Van Etten and Angel Olsen is, and frankly for that level of over-the-top expectation, I only have myself to blame.
1. Song Of The Bug
Lightning Bug’s new album, A Color Of The Sky, is in many ways an album of firsts. It is the first release for their new label Fat Possum, the first time the band have ever recorded live in the studio, and their first album as a five-piece band. Despite all those firsts, it is also an album that came from a series of endings, vocalist Audrey experiencing loss in the form of work, love and relationships and finding her life going through a huge upheaval. Inspired to trek across the Pacific North-West, a pilgrimage of sorts to a kite festival there, Audrey recalls the peace she found along the way, “I really didn’t know what my life was going to look like, but at the kite festival, I knew that each day I’d see a lot of beautiful kites, and each evening I’d watch the sunset and sleep on the beach. I felt like nothing could hurt me”. As a result A Color Of The Sky is a record about getting back to who you are, taking responsibility for your own happiness and embracing the joy of finding purpose to your life.
Ahead of A Color Of The Sky’s release next month, this week Lightning Bug have shared the latest single from the record, Song Of The Bell. The last song that Lightning Bug wrote for the album, the band have suggested it is a song of hope, but also of, “understanding that uncertainty is an inextricable part of being alive”. The track was partly inspired by the Tao Te Ching, and the idea of, “how one can ‘empty’ oneself to be full”. The book presents the idea that when something is empty you can see it either as a shell devoid of its former purpose or a vessel ready to be filled with whatever future you like. Musically, Song Of The Bell is a track of beautiful contrasts, the delicate nature of the vocals contrasted by the buzzing guitar and chaotic warbling synths. Suitably for a song that seems to search for a deeper meaning, Song Of The Bell is music to get lost in; Lightning Bug have created a trippy, dreamy world just waiting for us all to come and explore.
Header photo is Lightning Bug by Ingmar Chen.