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

EP: Stef Fi – ‘Girlhood’

A poignant reflection on grief, growth, and grappling with the repercussions of a racist world; Stef Fi has shared her debut EP, Girlhood, via Sistah Punk Records. Best known as the vocalist & guitarist of black feminist punk band Big Joanie, Stef Fi (aka Stephanie Phillips) has shared four alt-punk tracks that provide “sketches of a girl” resisting hate, and trying to find hope in the harshest of realities.

Mellow opener ‘What Remains’ broods with quiet intensity, setting the pensive, yet resistant tone of the EP. “Open wide and swallow divine” Stef directs, over steady beats and ominous guitar riffs. Her punk attitude breaks through on following track ‘Nowhere’. The quiet, uncertain lyrics of the verses contrast well with the distorted riffs and defiant words in the chorus.

“This town will be the death of me”, muses Stef on the eponymous ‘Girlhood’. The song was inspired by the footage of police attacking a young black girl at a Texas pool party in 2015. Extrapolating on what the victim may have felt, Stef delivers the line “I had spoken then I saw, I knew it was my time to fall” with calm resignation and maturity, powerfully contrasting with the violence the young girl experienced. It’s a jarring listen, but one that’s delivered with care and gentility.

‘The Garden’ closes the EP, with its rolling riffs, rumbling percussion, and more of Stef’s yearning vocals. Despite being rooted in inequality, Stef Fi’s Girlhood is a considerate, tender offering that showcases her talent as a songwriter, and as a woman who is dedicated to spotlighting the struggles of others.

Order your copy of Stef Fi’s debut EP on bandcamp. Follow her on Twitter for more updates.

Photo Credit: Nick Paulsen

Kate Crudgington
@KCBobCut

EP: Yakima – ‘Go Virtually’

Sharpening their steadily developing woozy, lo-fi sound, Glasgow quartet Yakima are set to bring their debut EP Go Virtually into the world on 3rd April. Drawing influence from their love for melodic expression and frenzied sonics, the record flits across boundaries of reality and imagination with its hazy, warm presentation.

Written and recorded in the unusual setting of a drafty gatehouse next to a nearby castle – with a ceiling made entirely of spider webs – the EP lends its echoey feel across six tracks. With production coming from Benji Compston and Jon EE Allan of acclaimed band, Happyness, the quartet’s debut record showcases an array of sounds that vary from upbeat and rock-tinged, to fragile and quiet.

Groovy, upbeat opener ‘It Helped’ establishes the observational lyricism that the band lean towards; looking the uncomfortable reality and battle of quitting smoking right in the eye. Following track ‘Judy’s Lament’ is rooted in the experience of reading about Judy Garland’s insomnia. Eventually turned in to a song about Garland’s imagined feelings about the lack of sleep, it’s a soothing lullaby that stands out as an early highlight for its smooth, quiet vocals.

‘Thanks’ makes way for a sudden spike in energy with it’s guitar-led sonics and melodic vocals, with the wild cut of ‘I’m Happy (In No Way)’ making room for the second high point on the EP, before IT loses itself in the chaotic, improvised outro of ‘Real Time’. Closing track ‘Sheep Boy, Cry Man’ (the title of which draws inspiration from “Cry Rooms” in Japan, where occupants go to relieve stress) is the most somber offering on Go Virtually.

Toying with vocal harmonies and earworm melodies, Yakima’s debut EP is an analytical creation that looks into the complex relationship between what’s right in front of you and what’s in your mind. Influenced by the likes of The Byrds, Elliott Smith, The Beach Boys, Sparklehorse, Low and Duster among so many others, the band still manage to shine with an authentic exuberance that can only be their own.

Yakima’s EP Go Virtually is released on 3rd April. Follow the band on Facebook and Spotify for more updates.

Malvika Padin
@malvika_padin26

EP: Stars and Rabbit – ‘Rainbow Aisle’

Stars and Rabbit will take you places. The perfect antidote to our stressful, fast-moving world, the duo, lda Suryani and guitarist Didit Saad offer lush, dreamy escapism on their new album, Rainbow Aisle. The album’s kitsch, happy tunes and sweet, sweet melodies transport you to a psychedelic world of rainbows, unicorns and sparkly booze. It’s a world of pure joy that makes the every day seem amazing.

Quirky opener ‘Little Mischievous’ draws you in with its crunchy, Foo Fighters-esque guitars. An ode to shaking off the shackles of good behaviour, the song criss-crosses between rock ‘n’ roll and slow, languishing dream-pop. 

Meanwhile standout ‘Any Day In The Park’ is an irresistible slice of ’60s-style pop. Saad’s retro guitars set the tone for Suryani’s distinctive vocals, which celebrate the simple pleasure of a day outdoors. “There is so much heart at the park,” she sings, bathed in beautiful, happy harmonies.

‘Illusory Utopia’ feels similarly retro. A slow, jazzy dream of a song, it’s boosted by sugar-coated keyboards and “ba-ba-ba” backing vocals that make you shimmy in your seat, longing for sunny days and super-strong cocktails.

‘I Don’t Wish To Carry You Anymore’ is more melancholic, but no less beautiful. A torch song reflecting on a break-up, its simple, stripped back guitars place Suryani’s beautiful vocal front and centre. And then there’s a proper ‘wave your lighter in the air’ moment, as she sings, “Oh, Dear, I miss you too…”, boosted by swooning backing vocals. It’s epic and beautiful.

Already building a following in their native Indonesia, Stars and Rabbit hope to make an impact internationally with this record. And they’ve certainly made one on me. Rainbow Aisle is going to soundtrack my summer.

Rainbow Aisle is out now on Green Island Music.

Vic Conway

Photo Credit: Robby Suharlim