It's been quite a while since I had the pleasure of reviewing a Taylor-Louise release: in fact it was about eighteen months ago when the title track of her magnificent ‘Black Heart' EP became the final single from it.
That collection would have been a hard act to follow, such a career high point as it was and of course the subsequent events were not very conducive to recording let alone trying out new material on audiences. In fact I suspect that simply being busy with all those other aspects of her life and interests would have limited her time for music anyway: she has been far from inactive in the meantime.
"Come By" (for such is the name of today's release and which she has crafted with producer Danny Azhar), either because Taylor-Louise does not wish to try to emulate past glories, or because knowing how restless her quest for moving herself forwards can be or maybe just because the song required such an approach in her opinion, sounds very unlike any of the previous material of hers I have reviewed or you have heard.
Hitherto, her songs have had their genesis on acoustic guitar and even if given fuller arrangements on records, she has still played them solo in that fashion. "Come By" is another variety of creature altogether: very much a contemporary, electronic dance sound: if there is an acoustic guitar in there, then I missed it.
The subject matter is different too: virtually all Taylor-Louise's earlier songs, right back from her teenage years, have been deeply reflective, soul searching lyrics, culminating in the previously mentioned EP. Now I've gone on record so many times expressing my admiration for her honesty & bravery in delving so deep into her life and emotions and then making really good songs out of what she found: I felt it was her trademark and applauded her for it. Often. However, with hindsight, I suppose not only must there be a finity of such material for any individual but that continual level of intensity in her work must be challenging to keep up permanently: plus adhering to one type of song, however well you do it, is not a great recipe for a long career. A bit of range and diversity will impress people.
Speaking with her earlier, Taylor-Louise confirmed that she was definitely aiming for something more light hearted in tone, something to evoke feelings of "just being chilled and content". Now I am very aware that I am prone to read too much into music I'm reviewing and try to rein myself in from excesses. I fully respect what the track's creator says about it, but I do also wonder if there are more subconscious elements at work from time to time which musicians may not themselves be as conscious of? At any rate, I can't help notice in "Come By" a reflection of Taylor-Louise's well known interest in people's good mental health in the theme of this song which is around a tendency to overthink: the apparent story being around a relationship issue perhaps, but deeper down, we are all going through a period of great stress and many of us have been isolated for a long time, a situation where the space for overthinking expands enormously. Her advice then is most topical: "not to worry about things and it'll all work out!"
Personally I appreciate the message and I also really like being surprised by artists. I'm sure it's a good test for realising how broad their ranges might be. "Come By" should do much the same for all of you too: chill you out & set you on a beneficial road but also offer you a side of Taylor-Louise you might not have expected. Don't worry: she's just as good as she ever was, but she's different on this outing. The writing is up to her usual standards, if the angst levels are down and it's great to hear her adapt her voice to the demands of the new style.
It'll be interesting to hear how she performs it live, but then it'll be great just to catch her live again. As for where her music is going, I think it's fair to say that there'll be plenty of unexpected turns on the road ahead.
You might perhaps have spotted that the track of the week from BBC Introducing in Coventry & Warwickshire is the new single by Contacts in the North called "Too Long".
You may, like me, wonder who this band is & I hope I can now be of some assistance in answering that question. It's hardly surprising that the name is new to us, as it is a really recent collaboration between Mark Barron, who is based in Stratford (and what an exciting scene has been developing in that town over the last few years) and his long time friend & collaborator Jean-Marc Valat who lives in Moreton in Marsh.
Mark & Jean-Marc have in fact worked under other band names (DAYS INDOORS: which is a guitar based rock group, eddington limit: electronica and Hyphae which is an acoustic/electronic collaboration involving Mark's wife, a professional cellist) but have created this new identity for material which did not fit in with what they were doing with these other projects.
"Too Long" is the first fruit of this and is the development of an existing track by Mark's Swedish friend, singer/songwriter Ingela Wiklund (whose vocals are those you'll be hearing). Though much of the track is new, samples of the original have been kept in. As Ingela lives in northern Sweden, within the Arctic Circle, her vocals arrived by phone: yet another example of the current phenomenon of having to do this sort of thing, yet I am still astonished by the fidelity of how such elements reach us & can be added to other tracks without noticeable loss of quality.
So what of "Too Long" itself? Well you can pretty instantly see what caught the attention of BBC CWR's Introducing team: this is classy stuff. When I first became interested in music, the sheer possibility of a single constructed from guitars played in the Cotswolds with added vocals over the phone from thousands of miles away (where the sun is still shining at midnight) and everything else on a laptop in other locations would have seemed a fantasy. In 2021 it's certainly possible and artists expect to be able to do it: in the special circumstances of the pandemic, this possibility becomes a necessity and a routine approach for many. Not only that, but artists such as these are comfortable putting together coherent songs with the internal dynamics which years ago I could only imagine happening with everyone playing in the same room. I'm so glad that this has been happening to enable so much of what I've been able to review, but even more so given the possibilities for collaboration across miles & oceans which it opens up.
I'd like to distance myself as much as possible from the clichés of writing about a song written & sung by a Swedish artist in terms of "iciness" but it's not altogether possible (some of it may be my subconsciousness forcing associations upon me I accept) as the beats have that arctic crispness and there is an air of detachment in the vocals. The sound is an quite austere dance one which does not intrude upon Ingela's soulful & incisive singing but provides not only a foundation for it, but in many ways a tonal counterpoint: it's that light arrangement/heavy words dichotomy at work again: to excellent effect. Although she sounds finished with whoever she is singing to, she seems free to move on: that sense of detachment indicating liberation.
Contacts in the North is still such a young entity,(we really shall have to watch this space) that it does not yet have its own social media presence, but here are the associated ones:
The band have been greatly encouraged by the response to this first song already and are looking very much forwards to building on the momentum.
Mark tells me that he is looking forwards to playing live, potentially in Stratford's new music café. He has appreciated the extra time over the past months in which he can make music (which with four potential different outlets must indeed be helpful) and although he agrees that the circumstances have promoted progressive new ways to work on recordings,, this can't substitute for live performances and he's looking forward both to more of these but also hearing setlists enhanced with so much new material created since people last played live. He speaks for me and I imagine many of you too in this matter.
Although his spirituality informs & enriches virtually all his work, in April 2019 Rob Halligan released a very explicitly sacred collection of songs based upon the Psalms called "Psalm" (you certainly can't claim he is indulging in misleading advertising).
The project however has continued and since then Rob has accumulated five more tracks of a similar nature ("Into The Valley, "O God Most High", "Show His Love", "Beautiful" and "And In His Prescence") with more to come. These are now available as a "pay whatever you think appropriate" download from his Bandcamp page, with more to be added over time.
I have not had a chance to review a Chasing Deer release for you since "Scared" came out in December, so I'm pleased to do so now in reaction to the new single called "Pray With Me".
During that time, Rob Hodkinson has however certainly been very busy: I am not sure he has missed a single weekly livestream since the pandemic began and he has also taken the first steps back into live performance: the rock upon which the Chasing Deer reputation was built. In fact he is playing at the Botanist in Coventry as I write this.
I'm sometimes not quite sure anymore whether to use the singular or plural about the band since circumstances seem to have (for the time being at least) to have reduced them down to just Rob plus his guests for gigs and recordings: that is how "Scared" had to be created. However in this particular instance, the recording is a full band effort as it dates back to their Siena sojourn of 2019 when they recorded four tracks at Virus Recording Studio in Monteriggioni with Alessandro Guasconi and with Oliver Basi as their producer..
The story therefore of this single in some ways encapsulates the effect the pandemic has had on artists. This was intended as a very special session, to build on their rapidly growing profile and fanbase, to create some top notch tracks to release in 2020, kicking them into the next level of their career. That sensibly was put on hold (promotional activity opportunities being so limited in scope almost certainly would have reduced the impact of the singles) and it is greatly to Rob's credit that he has played much more than a holding game in keeping the name in our minds until the time to start sharing the fruits of the Sienna sessions has arrived.
The plan I understand is to start with whetting our appetites for their originals with a cover version they recorded at the same time: originally of course by Rick Astley and a song they were originally asked to play at a wedding on the grounds that the person requesting thought that it would suit Rob's voice. It turned out that it did suit them so much that they not only played it then but enjoyed it so much that it stayed in the set to the extent that it was frequently assumed to be one of their own compositions.
The key I think is to focus on the notion that "it would suit Rob's voice" and not that Rob sounds like Rick Astley as he really does not: this is a really great example of how great covers can be, yet often are not. I personally have never seen a lot of point in an artist attempting to imitate another (and let's face it, so many songs which are popular as covers were originally by artists with sufficiently distinctive a style that a pure impression is pretty much doomed to relative failure), but with a bit of imagination & the right choice of song (credit to whoever suggested it in the first place), good artists can take a song, appreciate its qualities and essence and pay a respectful tribute to the original while playing it in their own way: as Chasing Deer do here. Not only does Rob not feel obliged to do a Rick Astley impersonation, but the band go at the song in a pretty hard rocking way, certainly surpassing the template in terms of dynamics and power: credit too to Rosanne Duckworth who provides trumpet as she will on their next three singles. You can readily understand not only why they like performing it but why they opted to make a professional recording of it as such prestigious a session.
2020 was definitely planned to be a huge year for Chasing Deer: they had been going from strength to strength in terms of gig profile as well as popular and critical response to their material. That didn't happen, but I'm pleased to hear that they have decided the time is right to revert to the original plan. They simply could not have done anything more to maintain a profile in the intervening months and I'm not sure their fanbase will have been eroded over that time: if anything I'd like to think that there are many Chasing Deer fans desperate to see them play again (though of course reconvening as a full live band will require putting into action). They've been sitting on music which Rob described to me as the best they've ever done and starting gently with this cover to ease us in, they could take the music scene by storm in 2021 rather than 2020 by the gems they clearly have been holding back. Judging by the panache and performance commitment on "Pray With Me", there are some very special singles going to be coming our way over the next few months.
In terms of the artwork, you might like to compare it with that of the cover for "Beautiful Life" by Rick Astley. Can you see what they have done there?
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