LISTEN: Susanna – ‘The Dancing Snake’

In a stunning and sorrowfully emotional unfolding it seems unjust to describe ‘The Dancing Snake’ the latest offering from Norwegian artist Susanna, as anything but a treasure.

Inspirited by the ghost of the late poet Charles Baudelaire (1821-67), Susanna brings the cynical gaze of a wandering civilian reflecting upon the universe around him to her majestic songwriting. With a captivating performance of dark, velvet-like piano, ‘The Dancing Snake’ and its shivering essence seems to rotate through the soreness of Baudelaire’s historic perspective.

Floating above the instrumental, Susanna’s voice emerges ‘The Dancing Snake’ to move in modern times with a fluttering vocal dreamscape that is anchored to the earth by its ringing chords and escapist lyrical content. Images from “I breathe the tang of the ocean / in the deeps of your hair”, to “my dreaming soul casts off and sets its course for distant skies”, take Susanna’s listeners on this strange fantastical journey where they are whisked away to hear the harmonious marriage between immaculate musicianship and storytelling.

‘The Dancing Snake’ is a skeletal arrangement of a tune that needs no more than itself. With early influences, from the earnest Bob Dylan to the more contemporary Mothers, Susanna has thrown her work into a blender – derived only from the best of folk, classical and art – and created an exquisite soundscape. ‘The Dancing Snake’ is an exhibition in itself, of impressionism and the pondering experience of being alive.

Baudelaire & Piano, the upcoming album from Susanna, is set for release 11th September via SusannaSonata.

Jill Goyeau
@jillybxxn

Photo Credit: Martin Rustad Johansen

 

PREMIERE: Kama Vardi – ‘These Days’

Having spent a nomadic youth travelling, experimenting and creating, Tel Aviv based artist Kama Vardi has released a stream of solo material to much acclaim, and has now announced a brand new album, set for release this Autumn.

Taken from the album, new single ‘These Days’ may be a cover of the Nico classic, but it showcases Vardi’s unique sparkling majesty. Maintaining all the beguiling allure of the original, this rendition oozes a captivating mysticism as the shimmering splendour of Vardi’s distinctive vocals and the gentle lilting melodies create a soothing, poignant lullaby. A strikingly beautiful moment of much-needed tranquility at a time when we need it the most.

Of the decision to cover ‘These Days’, Vardi explains:

“‘These Days’ – no longer a gambler, a talker, a lover. It is a song of a woman who had great adventures that left her standing humble, wide eyed and weary in front of the rest of her life, a feeling I was familiar with from a young age.

Filmed at a small countryside studio in the middle of nowhere, watch the charmingly comforting video for ‘These Days’ now:

Moonticket, the upcoming album from Kama Vardi, is out 27th November via Bread For Eskimos Records.

Mari Lane
@marimindles

ALBUM: Girl Friday – ‘Androgynous Mary’

Hardly Art are hardly novices at breaking new bands – the label gave early releases to the likes of Tacocat, La Luz, Shannon & The Clams and Colleen Green, amongst many others – but for LA four-piece Girl Friday, this debut album release on the label reflects a massive step forward for a band after just two EPs, which were self-released. But equally, for a group with this diversity of influence, and this originality of expression, perhaps it’s not so surprising that they’re hosting the band’s new album Androgynous Mary. 

The group came together via a chance encounter when guitarist Vera met bassist Libby at a friend’s house, at UCLA. Impressed by Libby’s particular style of playing bass – the Peter Hook merged with Kim Deal style of which certainly informs the ten tracks on Androgynous Mary. Vera introduced herself and the pair began making music together, bringing in additional guitarist Sierra and drummer Virginia through friends of friends.

What really marks the group out is their refusal to pigeon-hole themselves, generically, with this LP displaying flashes of surf-rock, garage, post-punk, goth, art-rock and pop-punk. And, although the foursome certainly have a broadly feminist identity, this is no mere political screed. Rather, it’s a collage of sounds and ideas from their time together, as informed by “parking lot murals” as the SCUM Manifesto, in a way not dissimilar to Girl Friday’s  hero, Courtney Love.

Album opener, ‘This Is Not the Indie Rock I Signed Up For’, is a case-in-point. It’s initially a gentle lead-in that shows off Girl Friday’s gorgeous vocal harmonies and soaring guitar lines, all contained in a mid-tempo post-punk ballad. But, in perhaps a meta callback to its title, the song falls apart into a free-form breakdown a few minutes in, before returning to its original style.

Second track and the album’s lead single, ‘Amber’s Knees: A Matter of Concern’ is built around a choppy, spikey slice of lo-fi indie-punk guitar.  Described by the group as a consideration of “the borders of culturally sanctioned dissociation and the wilful ignorance we often employ to keep things functioning”, its juxtaposition of post-punk and lyrical density gives it a substantial atmosphere that belies the accessibility of its sound. This is also true to some extent with ‘Eaten Things’, which veers more towards a gloomy, grunge sludge bass-led sound, and thumping percussion – “I want to eat you up” goes its chorus, before a grim sounding middle eight that sounds epically gothic.  

Lyrically, ‘Public Bodies’ is a return to the observational nature of the first two tracks, whilst sonically shifting the album into Allo Darlin’ style melancholic indie-pop. Musing on mainstream rejection, isolation and the inaccessibility of healthcare in the USA (that’s one interpretation), it uses images of religion and bodies consumed by capitalist machinery, stating “…if you want your independence, then you trade your health for cash”. The song closes with a Goo-era Sonic Youth style coda, underlining the band’s ability to re-construct their songs, seemingly on the spur of the moment, like an act of collective will. This is also true of what follows in ‘What We Do It For’ – opening with 90 seconds of post-punk instrumental led by spectral guitars (not far from the early days of Interpol), leading to a middle section of balladic harmonies, and closing with a flurry of guitars and drums; it’s like three different songs beautifully crashing into each other.  

‘Earthquake’ is a more immediate, Runaways style garage banger, replete with a shouty chorus which, somewhat appropriately, leads to an emotional shift in the album. ‘Clotting’ contains soft vocalisations and more personally emotive lyrics, not dissimilar to Sleater Kinney’s quieter work, whilst ‘Gold Stars’ is a mid-tempo grunge tale of an unwanted relationship (“I said leave, but you heard love”), underscored by Libby’s bass melodies. 

Closers ‘Favourite Friend’ and ‘I Hope Jason Is Happy’ form a dovetailing pair, sharing a stadium-filling guitar line that shines throughout both – “My head doesn’t fit the crown, does it matter anymore?” opens the lyrics on the mournful former, and the track slowly grows in intensity, dropping away to leave only the sustained guitar lead-in to the LP’s closer. Over a marching drum beat and fuzzy guitars, Girl Friday’s four members sing “My head is on your chest / In the end I’ll be happy if you do your best / You’ve got to fight to keep your breath in this world” and, with that, it finishes.

Precocious, without being naïve, and intelligent, without being pretentious, Girl Friday have crafted a debut that is no mere polemic, but allows imagist lyrics and inventive song-craft to create a palpable sense of character for the listener to lean into. It cuts a slice through influences, that stretch from the early ’70s, up to the present day – sifting, magpie-like, through the works of The Breeders, The Slits, Girlpool, Placebo, and (perhaps unconsciously) the C86 movement. Throughout, that bass sound flows, like a dark river, stretching a taut string across ten tracks, that each ring with their own distinct power. In short, Girl Friday have constructed a debut that’s suitable for all the days of the week.

Androgynous Mary is out 21st August via Hardly Art. Pre-order here.

John McGovern
@etinsuburbiaego

Photo Credit: Al Kalyk

ALBUM: The Crystal Furs – ‘Beautiful And True’

Growing up, changing and moving on always involves a certain degree of tension. And for cuddlecore trio The Crystal Furs, a move from the more conservative surroundings of Forth Worth, Texas, to the Pacific Northwest’s alt. capital, Portland, has seen a shift in more than just surroundings. The move led to a change in bassist – Rowan, who has also produced their latest album Beautiful and True. But, for keyboardist Kara and her spouse Steph, it meant the discovery of a new identity, mentally, emotionally and sonically. That’s not to say that the band, whose previous releases included their self-titled Texas debut in 2016, and last year’s sophomore Psuedosweet, have entirely left their old stomping ground behind. Indeed, Fort Worth – known colloquially as the ‘Panther City’ – stalks many of the songs herein.

In many respects, the tracks on Beautiful And True fit largely into the two halves of its title, with roughly half sitting in the observational (and therefore ‘true’ category) and the others odes to the beauty of others, and life itself. That the former are often melancholy, whilst the latter are brimming with optimism, probably tells you where band’s emotions are at. Throughout, the album shimmers with its jangly guitar and sweeping organ, as well as Steph Buchanan’s consummate indie-pop vocal delivery (along with occasional harmonies).  While ‘Comeback Girls’ opens things with a twinkling ballad, ‘Expo ’67’ is arguably the LP’s standout in this respect, with Green-era REM meeting The Breeders at the Montreal World Fair of the title, as its narrator finds that their retro-future dreams have faded from fantasy to grey concrete reality.

‘Pretty Mind’ picks up the ’60s style emotional pop, as an ode to the musical escapes of the small-town outsider. ‘Panther City Pariah’, meanwhile, is, thematically, the grown-up sister song to ‘Pretty Mind’ – finding its outcast narrator finding pride in “finish[ing] last” and “fail[ing] in public” out on the street. Musically, its tight guitar chords and organ melodies give it a pleasingly deconstructed blend of upbeat chamber pop and twee indie-disco. This gradual sonic opening up is continued by ‘Too Kind to be Cruel’, which features the album’s first guitar solo and lyrically inverts the old cliche’s message in an attempt to appeal to a friend’s good side, despite negative pressure from others and the wider world.

Appropriately, the album’s middle point encapsulates the themes at its core. ‘Like You’ has vintage doo-wop rhythms and guitars, mirroring the melancholy subjects of the girl groups from the era, with its lyrical take on the envy of the outsider, observing those considered both “beautiful and true”. ‘Burn Us Down’, meanwhile, is thematically and musically the LP’s true outlier: a bass-heavy garage rocker with stabs of organ. With this in mind, it’s hard to avoid the obvious interpretation that the sound is driven by the anger redolent in its lyrics: “your pocketbook against my personhood” presumably relating to the difficulty of accessing healthcare in the USA, while “you wanna cure me / you wanna fix me…our colours bleed across the land” sounds like a strong reference to the battleground of LGBTQ+ rights in the country.

‘Hey Maxine’ is a handclap-backed plea to someone unfairly treated; ‘Artoria’ is an upbeat lilt with a big chorus, an ode to the famous ‘tattooed lady’ carnival attraction Artoria Gibbons – whose ink now makes her seem less of a ‘freak’ and more of a forerunner; ‘Drag You Away’ is a C86-hued reflection on the horror nightmare of ‘podunk’ towns, replete with a doomy bass breakdown, although whether the zombies of its lyrics are literal or metaphorical is up to the listener to decide.

Penultimate track ‘The Robber Barons of Lombard Street’ is a tale of revenge against gentrification and the co-opting of the rainbow flag by capitalism, with arguably the album’s darkest imagery of “pistol loads” and a “building swallowed by flames” as “two femmes” take revenge.  However, it’s a contrast when it comes to album closer ‘Second Time Around’ – a celebratory hymn to second chances – and the album’s other standout, with its simple instruction to those listening: “Join a band and play guitar”, and make the most of being young, all over again.

To craft one album of three minute pop gems is impressive. To release two in a little over a year borders on compulsive creativity. And to suffer no let up in quality across the course of that time demonstrates that, as my grandmother was found of saying: a change is as good as a rest. It’s something of a well-worn expression, that adult life is about ‘finding oneself’, but it certainly seems for the Buchanans, and their band, that all of the changes in their life have enabled them to do just that. And what they’ve found are winning alt. indie-pop purveyors in the mould of Helen Love. Beautiful And True is an album whose title could not be clearer: it is what it says it is.

Listen to Beautiful And True on Bandcamp now:

 

John McGovern
@etinsuburbiaego