5. Worship At The Altar Of Jo Schornikow
Jo Schornikow has come a long way as a musician, in the most literal sense. Taking in spells in Melbourne and New York, she is currently based out of the Country-music mecca, Nashville, Tennessee. The follow up to 2019’s Secret Weapon, Jo’s latest offering Altar, out in May via Keeled Scales, is a tribute to her piano, an instrument strewn with memories from musical life that has seen her tour the world, “from jazz bars to church organs”, often performing with her partner, Matthew Houck of Phosphorescent. Ahead of Altar’s release, this week Jo has shared the first single from it, Visions.
Discussing the inspiration behind visions, Jo suggests the track is, “inspired by an ominous cosmic confluence of events that makes peace with impermanence as the only constant”. Like all of Altar, the track was recorded during a blisteringly hot Australian summer in Melbourne, Jo working alongside co-producer and drummer, Selwyn Cozens. While you might be expecting a piano-led composition, here Jo seems to embrace a fully rounded band sound, with propulsive drums, layered vocals and the warm tones of a Rhodes-like keyboard. The result is a bombastic slice of cosmic Americana, equal parts Fleetwood Mac and The War On Drugs, with perhaps a subtle nod to The Flaming Lips’ Race For Prize, although that admittedly might just be my ears playing tricks on me. With a new album, a high-profile slot at SXSW, and the promise of more dates still to come, 2022 might just be the year Jo Schornikow finds the praise to match her unquestionable talents, on this evidence it won’t just be her piano that’s worthy of worship.
Alter is out May 20th via Keeled Scales. For more information on Jo Schornikow visit https://www.joschornikow.com/.
4. The Good Ship Sharon Van Etten Comes Into Porta
Rumblings of a return for Sharon Van Etten turned into a full-blown thunderstorm this week, as she followed up the recent news of the absolutely brilliant sounding Wildhearts Tour (where she’ll be sharing the stage with both Angel Olsen and Julien Baker) with a string of European tour dates, and a brand new single. That track, Portals, is Sharon’s first new material since 2020’s stand-alone single, I Don’t Want To Let You Down, and finds her co-producing alongside Daniel Knowles. While I’m still an album release date away from throwing a full-blown party, it was still a reason to be very excited about what Sharon Van Etten might offer us in the year ahead.
Written back in 2020, Portals came from what Sharon describes as, “one of my lowest lows“, a period where anxiety and depression left her feeling disconnected from her own body and out of control. From that low, Sharon however found a way out, reaching out to her friend and Pilates instructor, Stella Cook, and in many ways, the track is a celebration of that experience, “instead of the darkness. Instead of my fears. My message is to work through them. Even when it’s hard. Even when it hurts. Reach out. Reach out to that friend who helps you reach out towards yourself”. Musically, the track seems to pick up where 2019’s Remind Me Tomorrow left off, resplendent with retro-synth sounds, driving rhythms and Sharon’s emotive, straight-talking voice, here looking her struggles direct in the eye and coming out swinging, “I want to live my life”. From there as the song becomes increasingly urgent, Sharon’s words become almost a mantra, “think straight, get by, gotta think straight to get by, think straight, get by”. From her lowest ebb, Sharon Van Etten has created something quite remarkable, to be honest, anyone who didn’t see that coming doesn’t really know how great this most remarkable of songwriters truly is.
Porta is out now via Jagjaguwar. For more information on Sharon Van Etten visit https://www.sharonvanetten.com/.
3. Boy Deer Scout Really Mixes Up Her Quadropeds
New York native Dena Miller, aka Deer Scout, featured on this site back in 2017 around the release of her fabulous single, Sad Boy and at that point, I was already waxing lyrical about the prospect of a debut album, which I’d hoped might arrive later that year. Some five years on, and freshly signed to Carpark Records, the debut Deer Scout album looks finally set to see the light of day when Woodpecker is released this April. This week ahead of the release, Dena has shared the first single from the record, Cowboy.
Taking its inspiration from the movie interpretation of Midnight Cowboy, Dena has described Cowboy as, “a song about feeling like you’re one step behind everybody else, like a small fish in a big pond, and being a little bit naive“. That sense of naivety is perhaps as present in the music as the lyrics, as the gorgeous simplicity of the walking bass-notes and fluttering finger-picking combine with Dena’s double-tracked vocals to create an open-hearted atmosphere akin to the likes of Frankie Cosmos or Kimya Dawson. Atop it all is Dena’s way with words, here mixing bravado infused Cowboy clichés with moments of tender sadness, one moment singing, “dust off my shoes with the sweat from my face if everyone is playing you’ve got to play the game”, before heartbreakingly noting, “I’ll be a reminder of another time, you are all I’ve got now, I don’t care if you’re kind”. Dena has described Woodpecker as a record about the uncertain and the unknown, but also one of compassion and connection, Cowboy seems to offer both, and all with a certain swagger that’s really rather wonderful.
2. Mi Mye’s New Single Is So Good It Hurts
Despite being a self-exiled Scott, Jamie Lockhart, the driving force behind the band Mi Mye, has been something of a fixture on the West Yorkshire music scene over the last couple of decades. The band last shared their music with the world back in 2017, via the acclaimed fifth album, The Mountain Forces The Future And The Force Causes The Rain. The subsequent five years have seen Jamie and band working on new material in their home studio, while also building their live-music-night-come-label-come-general-music hub-for-Wakefield, Bodys. The fruits of that period of radio silence began to emerge this week with the release of the new double-A single, It Hurt Me / It Hurt (e)m(ily)e, which encompasses two different versions of the same song.
Inspired by an episode of the Channel 4 documentary Educating Manchester, It Hurt Me is a reflection on Jamie’s experiences with dyslexia. It is a theme the band have explored before, even their name is something of a dyslexic in-joke, in the pre-Social Media era the band used to perform under a different spelling at every show, before settling on spelling both words incorrectly. What’s different on It Hurt Me, is that Jamie is for once not approaching the theme with positivity, after seeing how much frustration and upset dyslexia caused the child in the documentary Jamie set out to do what he could, “I need to ask for help, but not help to correct my spelling but help to make things great for everyone”. The two versions see first Jamie, and then bandmate Emily Ingham taking lead vocals, and musically too they’re distinctly different, Jamie’s is a more driving affair in the mould of Frightened Rabbit or Los Campesinos, full of shout-along thrills and yelped togetherness, while Emily’s take is a disorienting swirl of strings, sombre, reflective, and as it fades out on a weird mélange of electronic textures, arguably even more intriguing than the original. It Hurts ends not with a lone voice, but a collective shout, “I need your help, and I need your help as well”, a timely reminder that if we all channel our hurt into help, together we can possibly make the world a little bit better, not just for those in need but for all of us.
1. Andy Shauf Cuts A Deal With The Devil
For some reason I still tend to think of Toronto-based songwriter Andy Shauf as a relatively new voice in the indie world, however, it has now been nearly a decade since his break-out album, The Bearer Of Bad News. Since then the Saskatchewan songwriter has been riding a wave of success, 2016’s The Party showcasing his conceptual talents, before 2020’s The Neon Skyline caught the ear of many, even including Barak Obama. In September last year, Andy surprise-released his latest album, Wilds, which stripped back the ornate instrumentation to showcase the urgent and charmingly unpolished bones. With plans to get back on the road coming sharply into view, this week Andy shared a brand-new double-A single Satan/Jacob Rose.
While Jacob Rose is a delightful slice of bar-room Americana, particularly intriguing is Satan. The track is a reflection on the over-simplified nature of the god-fearing Christian church, inspired by a period in his youth when they banned Halloween as it was, “The Devil’s Day”. As Andy explains, “with the lyrics of this song, I was trying to take this cartoon-like simplification of life (and death) and pair it with a cartoon-like version of this Christian hell”. Stylistically, the track feels like a natural continuation from Wilds, the minimal introduction giving way to a fuzzy blur of lightly distorted vocals, clattering lo-fi drums and the distinct hum of analogue production. Towards the song’s conclusion Andy sings, “would you like to come swimming in a big lake of fire?” As the old saying goes, the devil’s got the best tunes, so sign me up for scorching swimming lessons, Satan never sounded so good.
Header photo is Andy Shauf by Colin Medley.