Fin's favourite tracks from the underground.
- make sure to follow our monthly playlist that updates on December 1st to hear these subterranean singles and even more of our favourite tracks from November 2020 -
Margot - Falling in Between Days
Margot's ‘Falling in Between Days’ is a single that instantly struck a chord for me (ha ha). It’s a brilliant offering from a band that often manages to carve out this unique quality of an expansive and yet warm landscape in their music. The Peckham based group ended 2019 supporting Swimming Tapes on tour, and have continued to progress following their 2018 debut single ‘Desensitised’. ‘Falling’ is smooth from start to finish, beginning with a few watery chords with a soft feedback into Ben Andrews’ tight drumming sequence to keep the shift of the verse and the chorus in check, with a very catchy riff warmly unfolding throughout the track. Alex Hannaway’s vocals are breathy, richly layered and sound perfectly contemplative over the guitar chimes, and he delivers some well written vignettes of life before the floating sensation of the chorus drops the listener intentionally back into the state of "falling". The lyrics float between the days, "turning in bed", seeing moments of life slowly slip away as the speaker dreams of a life that is now out of his reach, instead he’s searching for pictures that seem to be derived from his “rose tinted past”. It’s a song that exists in the liminal space of confusion and uncertainty, where life seems to stop. It's fragile, slightly tragic, and strangely beautiful. The group capture this feeling with immense talent, focus and flair. It’s an absolutely excellent track, I’m waiting for their full length project to come with bated breath.
Rosehip Teahouse - Summer Sleep
This Cardiff based group have enjoyed a productive year throughout 2020, releasing a string of singles and an EP back in August titled Chillin in the Void, which displayed the group's penchant for hazy indie-pop. Rosehip Teahouse began as the solo recordings of lead vocalist Faye Rogers, but has now developed into a full blown band, and ‘Summer Sleep’ is the latest single in their increasing catalogue of great music. It starts slow, with Rogers’ vocals sounding wonderfully atmospheric over just a few solitary keys to accompany her. The lyrics are dreamily melancholic, slowly lamenting a world that remains out of reach for the listener, in a dreamlike state of incomplete clarity. There's something that reminds me slightly of Snail Mail about Roger's vocals, as they softly (but comfortably) reach across a range of impressive registers, crackling beautifully into a precise and elegant harmony at the cusp of the one minute mark.
The keys give plenty of room for her expression to draw the listener in, searching for a concrete image, before the tenuous beginning shatters with the entry of drums and strings. The band explodes in a cacophony of excellent chords as Rogers sounds enigmatic, taking the powerful backing in her stride. 'Summer Sleep' closes with a stunning repeated harmony of “goodbye”, in a plaintive display of aching emotion. It’s an excellent sign of things to come for the group, who have their next EP titled Fine dropping in the next few weeks.
Lael Neale - For No One For Now
This release from Sub Pop Records signee Lael Neale offers a hypnotic pairing of singles. ‘For No One For Now’ uses a faint, up-tempo drum machine beat and cycles it through church organs to create an atmospheric, and slightly Gothic, backdrop. This simplicity allows the ethereal tone of her voice to take control and move the song forward, and `Every Star Shivers in the Dark’ follows the same formula. The simple organ and drum machine outline Neale's sparkling voice as she paints images of LA with small vignettes that flicker through the tracks, culminating in some twinkling keys.
The cycling drum machine gives this sensation of walking alongside her voice, as she throws feelings, moments, monographs of her life into space. There are a few details that ground you; making toast, a light in an alley, kitchens, freeways, clay being shaped. These are the moments that, as she puts it, "sometimes feel like they're real", but they are always punctuated by the ever-shifting abstractions of life, meandering thoughts and questions that feel softly rhetorical; "why can’t I love someone?" The effect is two songs that glitter in and out of focus as Neale sounds heady and contemplative, her voice trickling through lines slowly. The songs feel like they close your eyes for you, having you roam in the world of her observations, which are just as muddled and out of reach as your own. It’s the sign of an extremely talented songwriter with a concise vision. The two grainy videos released to accompany the tracks show a lush world that is fleeting, instantaneous and surreal, tinged with some subtle but distinct hints of Americana. Hopefully a full length project is close around the corner, if these two singles are an indication of what we're in for it could be very special.
Shark Smile - Suburban Nightmares and Big Beautiful Dreams
The illusive collective Shark Smile recently released a three track EP Suburban Nightmares and Big Beautiful Dreams under the creative control of George Juchau. The first track ‘/M’ is an eclectic mix of glitchy drums and a cycled set of strings, building up into a James Blake-esque remix of sounds that build and fall, pitched up and down, for an extremely pretty but short minute long intro. The final track ‘Ode To Salvanini’ is equally well made, featuring a horn sample with a few faint vocals softly creating space in the background, with a smooth instrumental breakdown at the halfway point. The track that stood out to me most though, is ‘Vacancy’, which uses the instrumental synths of Thom Yorke’s ‘Dawn Chorus’ from his 2019 album ANIMA and shifts them into the realm of electronic club music, with a fast, pulsating beat that pushes the song into a low hum of buzzing synths.
Faint vocals from Lauren Walker span the length with the yearning question “when will I see you again?”, with a few breaks and layered synths complimenting the reverberating undertone of the sample. It’s minimalist, and cleverly executed, outlining a capricious, fleeting city experience, a feeling emphasised in an incredible video courtesy of Delphino Productions, a hyper-lapse of Google Maps "Street View", moving down endless roads across a long list of countries around the world. The video beckons to the viewer, asking where they are, and whether they can look around. The music and film blend to create a malleable blur of the immediacies of life, in a breathless compilation of roads, faces, clothing, vehicles. This EP is a testament to the creativity of everyone involved, and a great concept from these London based artists.
Bored at My Grandmas House - Showers
Leeds based singer/songwriter Amber Strawbridge, under the alias Bored at My Grandma’s House, has been releasing a string of singles throughout the year. Her latest, 'Showers', is a stunning piece of indie rock, with the notion of a shower emptying your life, your mind, and creating the potential feeling of a “new beginning”. Her voice is extremely pretty, soft and close to the ear at the beginning of the track, layered beautifully between simple but propulsive drums. The chorus kicks into a heavy series of drum hits as guitars drenched in reverb pick up the pace of the track and drive the chorus forward. The mixing allows the heavy notes of the chorus to break in and slightly drown out her vocals, in a way that sounds strikingly like a shower crashing over your head. With a well polished instrumental breakdown towards the end of the track, and layered vocals swirling around the racing instrumental, the song is satisfyingly well put together, and the refrain "do you ever feel like showers / are like a new beginning?" is addictive and very sticky. 'Showers' is the first track from Amber's debut EP 'Sometimes I Forget You're Human Too', which is set for release in 2021, and she’s an artist we will definitely be keeping track of. If this is what happens when Amber gets bored, lets hope everything stays that way.
Zenesoul - Love and Be Loved (feat. Aaron Ridge)
Canadian soul singer Zenesoul is a rapidly emerging artist, releasing two EPs over the past two years: Worth in 2019, and Coffee in the middle of 2020, both displaying a confident R&B style that prompted us to include her on our playlist back in September. She moves from strength to strength on the latest release ‘Love and Be Loved’, one of her smoothest and most intimate tracks yet, as she sounds sublime over ballad style keys and chords, providing a well paced backing for her to display the full power of her stunning vocals. Simplicity is key here, as she introduces herself with a few aching commands to "say it again", lamenting a need for security to her lover, and then reaching up into her upper range for the stunning chorus of "don’t it feel good? / to love and be loved". Aaron Ridge is the perfect voice to combine with Zenesoul's, as his deep, potent and effortlessly controlled tone reaches gracefully into the command to "let me drown, pull me under". When the two remain on the track together, it’s less of a competition and more of a cooperation of immense singing talent, as the two have the masterful chemistry to create a sensuous ballad, calling out to each other. This track further proves Zenesoul’s captivating talent and reiterates her importance as one to watch in the world of underground Neo-soul.
STIIR – Seasonal Love
STIIR are a north London alt-pop trio doing a brilliant job of turning heads in the underground music scene, and they recently extended their growing catalogue, which already includes smooth tracks with killer basslines and energy, like ‘Cityside’ and ‘Club Soda’. Their latest track 'Seasonal Love' sits closer to the realm of dream-pop, with a slow guitars strumming smoothly through slower paced beat. It’s laid back and extremely well produced, with the soft layered vocals providing the dreamy refrain "seasonal life, seasonal love" as the hinge through which the track finds it's power. The vocals through the verses that separate the refrain are excellent, with a hazy, controlled tone that fits the gentle ambiance of the track. The song touches on loneliness and attempting to overcome love, giving the sentiment that emotions can change slowly with the seasons, as the outward environment invokes a shift inwardly. In this sense, it's more positive a track than it first seems, focusing on a person's ability to find change through the passage of time and recovery, rather than the more melancholic direction of a flattening heartbreak. It feels pensive but finds a certain solitude in this ability to be reflective. It’s another confident and impressive track from this brilliant trio, who seem to be getting better and better.
JON. - Deal or No Deal
JON.'s latest track is a testament to this Bristol based rapper’s talent. It takes a certain amount of confidence and energy of to pull off a Noel Edmonds themed Deal or No Deal grime song, but JON. manages it with an outrageous amount of finesse. If you’ve been reading us since the start of 2020, it’s no surprise to see JON. here again. `Soul II Soul’ was our song of the month for April 2020, and the former ‘Ones To Watch’ artist has already appeared countless times already on our monthly playlists in 2020.
‘Deal or No Deal’ is JON. at the top of his game, once again. The instrumental uses strings to create a chilling atmosphere from the very beginning, bracing the listener for the incoming hi hats, a few sub bass hits and some cold vocals to drag the track towards the incoming beat, which is where the song explodes into life. It’s a simple but hard-hitting instrumental, using a healthy amount of bass and short claps to create a vicious beat, JON.’s lyricism is consistently slick, with some absolute gems like “no Comme des Garçons but I walk round with my heart on sleeve", ushering in a fast and sticky Deal or No Deal themed hook. Add in a well made video, featuring a violist, a mansion, a wood stoked fire and a personalised Deal or No Deal box, and you’ve got a serious statement of intent from an artist who asserts that he is doing this ‘for the culture’. JON. is looking red hot right now. Don't sleep on him.
Fruit Junior - Balloons
Fruit Junior is an indie guitarist and vocalist from Marburg, Germany, who brings a fresh quirkiness on his latest indie-pop single ‘Balloons’, the first track since his latest EP, aptly titled Guy on a Couch With a Notebook. Most of Fruit Junior's songs find their power through a catchy guitar riff, and a concise vocal motif, and this latest offering follows suit with perhaps the best track he’s produced yet.
'Balloons' is a vibrant track, with a beautifully catchy riff which kicks into gear from the start, punctuated with a few sparkling synths and faint percussion. It’s instantly addictive, giving a feeling of pleasant warmth and light. His slow and understated delivery is slightly murky, engulfed in the track, as he likens the loss of a person (for whatever reason) to the image of a balloon floating away, and the feeling of wondering where they could possibly be now. He cleverly uses the phrase "up in the air now" as a double entendre; the relationship is "up in the air" in the sense of the phrase, but is also the person drifting away, as if they were the balloons haphazardly scattered across the sky blue cover. The song breaks down into just a few chords at the 2:30 mark, with the touching utterance of "wherever you are, places to share you, with right here", asking if you "saw the balloons, sent your way". We can’t wait to see what this talented artist floats over our heads next. We’ll be stood looking skywards until then.
Personal Trainer - Politics
Amsterdam based, constantly shifting rock collective Personal Trainer have dropped a new single ‘Politics’, the latest in a string of releases since signing with Sports Team's Holm Front record label back in May 2019. 'Politics' is a moody track with a gravelly, slow delivery from frontman Willem Smit. His voice sounds laid back, nonchalant and effortlessly cool as he meditates on a various number of issues throughout a relatively normal day, as he struggles with roundabouts, flat earthers, itches that are out of reach. The chorus is the aptly simple refrain "I can’t keep track / I can’t keep track of my troubles", with some slightly unsettling high pitched vocals accompanying him. The guitar in the background sticks to a slick bass lick and a few breaths to set a groove, and is punctuated throughout by rising chords. It’s charismatic and at times hilarious, and the video released to accompany the single allows their ability to not take themselves too seriously to shine through visually, parodying our need to remain consistently in touch with life, a task that is at times impossible. It's a relatable sentiment given the current moment, and I’m looking forward to the release of their full length project Gazebo on the 5th of February 2021. We could be in for a great debut album.
This article was written and edited by Fin Cousins, a literature student studying at Kings College, London. He loves sport, music and writing and he is still waiting for Love Island to accept his application. He also made our logo.
Thanks for reading! Slow Motion Panic Masters is a music, arts and culture blog created and edited by Ben Wheadon, a literature student and musician based at the University of Oxford. He is also a Fleet Foxes shill.
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