EP: Elsa Hewitt – ‘Ghostcats’

Whatever your mood, electronic artist & producer Elsa Hewitt has a tune to defuse or accompany it. What she achieves through improvisation, many would struggle to create with the most calculated intentions; and her dizzying blend of looped synths & vocals on new EP Ghostcats beautifully showcases her intuitive talent.

Described by Hewitt as an “opener” for her next release Lupa (due later this year), Ghostcats is a collection of minimal electronic compositions that have a soothing, almost translucent quality to them. Filled with celestial looping vocal harmonies, the ambient ‘Godly’ opens the EP, followed by the equally ethereal ‘Massive Charade’. It meanders in to brief but beautiful tracks ‘Wave State’ and ‘Mounting Up’. On each of her tracks, Hewitt’s breathy vocals and spacious synthesizers merge together to create a soothing, fuzzy atmosphere reminiscent of a lucid dream.

There’s a pleasantly jarring quality to tracks ‘Still’, ‘Kevlar’ and ‘Easy’, whilst ‘Raspberry’ is sweet and breezy. On ‘Velvet Scrunchy’, it feels like Hewitt is toying with the soft accessory the track is named after; gently opening and closing her palm around the garment. The twinkling sound of ‘Rebird’ close the EP, which from its opening loop has been a soothing sonic head rush.

A much needed distraction in these strange times, Elsa Hewitt’s Ghostcats is a blissful electronic offering, designed to leave you reassuringly lightheaded.

 

Buy your limited edition Ghostcats cassette via Bandcamp here.

Kate Crudgington
@KCBobCut

EP: Death Valley Girls – ‘Breakthrough’

Los Angeles five-piece Death Valley Girls have made their name in evoking a certain kind of late ’60s/early ’70s rock and roll – the point where the raw power of The Stooges and the MC5 meets the horror glam of The New York Dolls and The Cramps, with a hefty dose of the era’s psych flavour laid on-top. 

But one of the lesser known outfits of the period – or certainly, where this writer is concerned – is Atomic Rooster, an offshoot of The Crazy World of Arthur Brown, whose track ‘Breakthrough’ is being covered here. And even though that would normally be on-trend for DVG, the song actually found them via a cover by ’70s Nigerian rockers The Funkees. If that wasn’t circuitous enough, the single’s PR also cites the band’s contact with Damien Echols as another inspiration for the EP of the same name – specifically the development of his powers as a magician, master meditator and expert on astral projection, whilst serving eighteen years on death row, when wrongfully convicted as part of the West Memphis Three.

That complexity aside, the track is a rip-snorter. Initially built around a full minute of pulsing organ chord and riff-tastic guitars, the song really kicks into gear with lead singer Bonnie Bloomgarden’s vocals, echoey and ethereal, but powerful with it. Its chorus verges on stadium anthemic, with the phrase “I gotta make a breakthrough!” on repeat, before the word “NOW!” brings in its middle eight organ reprise and funky guitar licks. 

At a full five minutes and twenty-six seconds, this is no latter-day to-the-point banger, but the kind of old-style garage rawk experience that you can really live in, with a rhythm section that starts simple but builds in intensity towards its crescendo close. Its foot-stomping is most reminiscent of fellow psych-revivalists GOAT – perhaps unsurprising given that both bands have come to their sound via Afro-rock – although here it’s served with a quintessential US growl and underscored by a mix of Cali trippiness and Southern fried fretwork.

The reference to Echols’ experience is made pretty clear by the song’s lyrics, with their reference to breaking out of the prisons, both visible and invisible, in which we find ourselves.

The EP’s other side is another cover, albeit from a very different source. Having gigged briefly with the late alt-indie great Daniel Johnston, DVG have covered his ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll / EGA’ from the 1994 album Fun by way of a tribute. 

Clearly, for the group, there’s an emotional resonance to both tracks and it’s no coincidence, perhaps, that the EP’s release comes at a time when individuals are looking for sweet relief at a difficult time. The Johnston song, with its refrain of “That rock n roll / It saved my soul”, coupled with the EP’s title track, is a clear indicator of where Death Valley Girls currently find themselves – looking back to the past, for some guidance of where to go next. A little bit of retro-rock might just be what we all need to break through.

 

Breakthrough is out today via Suicide Squeeze Records. Order here. Or listen on Spotify.

John McGovern
@etinsuburbiaego

Photo Credit: Abby Banks

EP: Julia-Sophie – ‘Y?’

Describing herself as finally finding her hullabaloo within the storm, new electronic artist Julia-Sophie jumped onto the scene supporting GIHE faves Sink Ya Teeth. Last week she released her debut EP, Y?, and we cannot stop listening to it.

This record draws you in from the outset. Lead track ‘Breathe’ envelopes you with its sound as the pulsating title lyric repeats, leaving it reverberating around your head after only the second listen. At points, especially on ‘x0x’, I feel that I can hear the influences of Gazelle Twin, where I am sat watching this music performed in a darkened auditorium with a light show that electrifies the stage as the music electrifies your ears.

Of the record Julia-Sophie explains “I came to point in my life when I realised that I had been coasting through life and in these songs, rather than carrying on floating I chose to rip myself open and see what would come out the other side.”

Y? is a sublime four track record of emotionally intelligent electrifying electronica. Music which builds and layers, over and over, resulting in an almost painfully blissful experience. I’m completely addicted and have not enjoyed an EP this much in a long while – Julia-Sophie is clearly an artist who has a solid understanding of producing, removing boundaries and letting music speak for itself. I cannot, and do not want to stop listening. 

Listen to Julia-Sophie’s EP Y? here. Follow Julia-Sophie on Instagram for more updates.

EP: Self Esteem – ‘Cuddles Please’

Where once Rebecca Lucy Taylor sought your compliments, now it’s a gentler, more tactile, and reassuring contact that she’s looking for. And that change in tone is largely the theme of this EP, which features three versions of songs from her debut as Self Esteem, along with a cover of one of Rebecca’s favourites by Alex Cameron. It would be deceptively simple to dub the songs taken from Compliments Please as ‘stripped-back’ – the majority of the songs feature just vocals, piano and some strings, but there’s still plenty of oomph, especially given that backing vocals are provided by the massed ranks of Sheffield’s Neighbourhood Voices choir.

What’s also striking about the three re-worked tracks is how the change in them reflects the change in mood from the alt.pop bombast of Compliments Please to a minor key here; if not exactly sombre, then certainly more reflective and emotional.

The EP’s art shows Taylor on the set of the video for ‘The Best’, in all-grey sweats, phone in hand, as if to say: “Here’s the artist behind the performer”. And, whereas the single was a quick-fire romp through a love-hate relationship, here it sounds practically elegiac, with its latter half gaining added emotional weight by way of a string quartet. ‘In Time’, meanwhile, has switched from a low-wave neo-pop grower, laced with autotune and artificial beats, to something altogether more spectral and ethereal, with Taylor at her most expressive and its lyrics even more pointed. 

In truth, the change to the majority of ‘Favourite Problem’ is possibly the least dramatic, as it was already one of the rawest songs on Compliments Please. But, as an introduction to this EP, it’s perfect, with its middle eight making perfect use of the delicate harmonies of the choir. 

The closer, a cover of Alex Cameron’s neo-croon celebration of debauchery, ‘Miami Memory’, is the simplest song on the album. That may be because, in Taylor’s opinion, it’s “one of the greatest love songs ever written” – but, where the original has a degree of detachment, this is a pure torch song.

During her days as one half of Slow Club, Self Esteem initially started as an art project, a way for Taylor to find ways to express herself without restriction. And whilst there are plenty of artists for whom the division between art and life is very thin, in the confessional landscape of postWinehouse British pop, it is Taylor’s voice that sounds loudest, and most honestly. What Cuddles Please shows is that, in the intermingling of her professional and personal lives, and amidst her desire to create new ways of making pop music, Taylor is one hell of a songwriting and vocal talent. More of this, please.

 

Cuddles Please is out now. Listen on Spotify.

Taylor has also been busy during lockdown curating digital festival PXSSY PANDEMIQUE, featuring an all-female-identifying lineup of artists, poets, comedians and more, including the likes of NIMMO, Bishi, Little Boots, Helen Bauer, Rozi Plain and many more. The first two have been a huge success, so far raising over £7,000 for Women’s Aid. Of the festival, she explains:

“Before the Pandemic I was pretty annoyed about the discrepancy between male and female acts on festival bills. I had gotten into a dialogue on the internet with some of the replies being ‘… there just aren’t as many women making music as men’ which obviously boiled my brain and made my nose bleed. So anyway Kelli (collaborator and bestie) and I thought why not organise a femme-only festival online in the first few weeks of the lockdown. I couldn’t believe the amount we raised for Women’s Aid and I felt as soon as the government inevitably announced an extension of the lockdown we should do another one…”

John McGovern
@etinsuburbiaego