Milkwood - All Of Its Ways
Just when you think you’ve got Milkwood sussed as another standard folk three piece from the South of England, they do something that takes you by surprise. Like when a disjointed but inspired fingerpicked banjo solo gatecrashes 'Bite My Thumb'’s sweet melody, or the moan of a Velvet Underground-esque dying violin throws 'The Passanger' into a cascade of electric guitar and drums. Johnston’s hearty vocals, heavy with the same kind of maturity that has earnt Laura Marling so much recent praise, make sure the songs stay festering in your ears, like an ear infection you don’t mind having. The only things you can get for £3 nowadays are posh sandwiches or a pint- however you can go buy Milkwood’s debut album for a mere £3 from a link on their Myspace. Forgo that sandwich or pint- it’ll be worth your while.
Amos Zimmerman - Amos Zimmerman & The River Band
Curiously, Amos’ surname suggests lineage to probably the most famous singer-songwriter of all time, some guy called Bob Dylan. However, you won’t find any pictures of Amos in Bob’s family albums, for the simple reason that they aren’t related by anything more than a mutual love of semi-acoustic songwriting. Hailing from Tel Aviv and already a rising star in Israel with his ‘Quasi-Rockabilly-Country-Swamp-Jam-in your face-Original Folk Rock’, Amos and his ‘Riverband’ are strong musicians but often edge too close to pastiche. With a voice like a less depressed Elliot Smith and a band indebted to Neil Young circa-Harvest, the group could do with having a few more sparks of inspiration that aren’t linked to the aforementioned Canadian ‘Godfather of Grunge’. Nevertheless, the song ‘Patience’ highlights Zimmerman’s ability to craft an original sound that rises above his already towering influences.
Let's Buy Happiness - Six Wolves / Woodrings
Consisting of four unassuming guys and one female lead singer, Let’s Buy Happiness, or LBH as my fingers prefer, create thoughtful, mid-paced indie-pop. Edge-esque guitar delay fill the songs, swirling around and gradually building up and up, allowing Sarah Hall’s ethereal vocals to jump ship and float around in the expansive sound. LBH lack the urgency needed to set pulses racing, but they’re widely seen as one of the north-east’s most promising bands and there’s certainly a lot of potential in the songs. For one thing, Hall’s Coco Rosie/Bjork style vocals are reason enough to see the band live. If they took more unexpected turns here and there to jolt the listener back down to earth, rather than letting them drift along on a wave of sweeping guitars and drums, LBH could be 2011′s surprise package. That kind of musical prowess can develop over time though. At the moment LBH have a loyal following in the north-east, with fans sensing they might have found something special on their doorstep.
Foxpockets – The Coracle & The Albatross EP
On this EP of ‘modern day fables’, Foxpockets mix their folk-pop sensibilities with pagan traditionalism. If that sounds like a potentially horrific car crash of sounds then fear not, there’s enough in the delicate instrumentation, detached vocals and eerie lyrics to steer these songs in an intriguing and impressive direction. On the surface the band’s sound may seem like a pleasant enough exercise in pastoral folk, however there’s a dark undertone to each song. No more so than on the haunting ‘Grendel’, which would fit right in on the soundtrack to The Wicker Man, with its gruesome lyrics (“He might rip off your head, he’ll grind your bones to make his bread”) befitting of a sadomasochistic folk sing-a-long. And luckily Foxpockets seem to agree with me that the phrase “less is more” was coined with the banjo in mind, as shown in its understated use on the fantastic ‘The Nautical Song’. Time to party like it’s 1899.
You can download ‘Grendel’ for free from the band’s soundcloud:
Oh Stockholm! – When It’s Dark and Cold EP/Leaving You Ain’t Easy EP
The title and snow covered scene that appears on the front cover of this EP means, you’d suspect, that it was the artist’s intention for the songs to be enjoyed when it really is dark and cold. So, always conscious of a fair test and because it’s July, I went down to the cellar to do this review. There’s more than a little Bright Eyes about Michael Hutchinson’s fragile vocals and Anna Bennett’s mournful violin in ‘Walking In The Snow’, and the Conor Oberst comparisons carry right on through the EP of soft, sorrowful, wintery laments. The second set of songs showcases more of the same, and the overarching theme of a tortured long-distance relationship will strike a chord with many. But although Hutchinson’s love songs are indeed honest and sincere, there’s a distinct lack of bite to them that, if found, could take the songs to a more engrossing, perhaps vitriolic, level. By the next EP, that’s very much a possibility.