Wacky and wondrous, young Norwich duo LET’S EAT GRANDMA gave a refreshing sign at London’s Heaven that the anti-X Factor generation really does exist!
Comprising of Rosa Walton (vocals, keyboards + guitar) and Jenny Hollingworth (vocals, keyboards, recorder + sax), the pair met as 4 year olds at school. Often acting as if they were twins, their “experimental sludge pop” was showcased via their appropriately titled debut album ‘I, Gemini’, a work crammed with vivid imagination.
Accomplished multi-instrumentalists but also very much acting their age, the pair possess a naively afflicted high pitched harmony in the vein of cult American freak folkies COCOROSIE which only adds to their quirky appeal. Their recently released second album ‘I’m All Ears’ has been a more direct affair and seen them venture into synthpop, art school R’n’B and filmic instrumentals as well as developing their songs into even more adventurous extended arrangements.
Opening the show with ‘Hot Pink’, this feisty CHARLI XCX enthused anthem challenging gender roles with its stuttering rhythms was complimented by big blocks of coloured light.
But it was the baby CHVRCHES of ‘It’s Not Just Me’ and its relatable sentiments on friendship that were an indication not just of the duo’s musical development, but of their empowerment too.
A more aggressive second cousin to ‘It’s Not Just Me’, ‘Falling Into Me’ continued a song selection that naturally focussed on ‘I’m All Ears’. Following on, ‘I Will Be Waiting’ came over not unlike FEVER RAY crossed with CHVRCHES, while the piano-laden ‘Ava’ offered a maturity not far off POLLY SCATTERGOOD but also some innocent oddness.
‘I’m All Ears’ has been notable for featuring two very long tracks in ‘Cool & Collected’ and ‘Donnie Darko’, affirming Walton and Hollingworth’s subversive spirit and ambition if nothing else. A statement about insecurity, the psych guitar driven ‘Cool & Collected’ however was the less successful of the two, meandering a little too much and far too self-indulgent for a live setting.
But closing the main set, the 11 minute progressive gothique of ‘Donnie Darko’ was supreme with its loose shimmers and sparring guitar to start, before kicking in a steady four-to-the-beat, electronic blips and impassioned lines about “going bat sh*t crazy”.
Climaxed by magnificent bursts of whirring synth, the fluidity wouldn’t have sounded out of place on something by LA DÜSSELDORF.
However, some youthful fervour saw Walton and Hollingworth leaving their positions to dance with the audience before sitting down together in front of the drum riser, pleased with how their slumber party with 1000+ guests had gone.
Encoring with ‘Deep Six Textbook’, the song that took LET’S EAT GRANDMA to a wider audience via BBC TV’s ‘Later With Jools Holland’, the pair reprised their endearing playground Pat-A-Cake before settling into the song’s stark funereal drama.
Despite expressing a newly found confidence of individuality, LET’S EAT GRANDMA are still very much a playfully bonded pair who will only get stronger as a musical force.
Full of fun and fabulously quirky, while at times some of tonight’s performance got a bit ragged and could have been tightened, overall it was a highly accomplished show that very much impressed and reinforced their potential.
Anyone going to see CHVRCHES in the next few months is highly advised to arrive early; LET’S EAT GRANDMA are a positive symbol for the future and really should not be missed.
‘I’m All Ears’ is released by Transgressive Records/PIAS in CD, double vinyl LP and digital formats
LET’S EAT GRANDMA open for CHVRCHES in 2018-2019, dates include:
Utrecht TivoliVredenburg (3 November), Brussels Ancienne Belgique (5 November), Cologne Live Music Hall (6 November), Berlin Tempodrom (7 November), Hamburg Docks (9 November), Stuttgart LKA-Longhorn (11 November), Munich Muffathalle (12 November), Milan Fabrique (14 November), Lausanne Les Docks (15 November), Luxembourg Den Atelier (16 November), London Alexandra Palace (7 February), Birmingham O2 Academy (8-9 February), Nottingham Rock City (11 February), Bournemouth O2 Academy (12 February), Manchester Victoria Warehouse (14-15 February), Glasgow SSE Hydro (16 February), Newcastle O2 Academy (18 February)
Belfast Ulster Hall (19 February), Dublin Olympia (21-22 February)
Older music enthusiasts often express their despair about how things are “not what they used to be” with regards young new talent.
Often, the radio airwaves are bombarded with either autotuned pop wannabes or angsty folkies acting far too old for their years.
So it has been quite refreshing to come across an act who are genuinely quirky and out there, as well as rebelling by not towing the X-Factor party line despite having only just left school.
Norwich duo LET’S EAT GRANDMA were just 17 when they released their debut album ‘I, Gemini’ in 2016 with a nod to American freak folk pairing COCOROSIE. Despite not being related, the pair presented themselves as twins but over the two years since, Rosa Walton and Jenny Hollingworth have developed their own lives and identities.
Like any friendships formed during childhood, this was inevitable so when Walton formed her first relationship, Hollingworth found herself a new social circle while developing an interest in electronic music and vintage synths.
Now coming together with a new found confidence as individuals, their experiences have manifested themselves onto their second album ‘I’m All Ears’, resulting in a more much diverse record compared to their debut. Like a TV show with eleven scenes, ‘Whitewater’ with its electronic backbone acts as the album’s futuristic instrumental theme while offset by rugged bursts by cello.
The feisty single ‘Hot Pink’ is a celebration of femininity that comes over like a baby ZOLA JESUS meeting CHARLI XCX; this is perhaps not totally unsurprising as the latter’s Glaswegian producer SOPHIE is also behind the studio controls here, along with Faris Badwan of THE HORRORS.
The brilliantly wonky synthpop of ‘It’s Not Just Me’ is an indication of how much LET’S EAT GRANDMA have evolved. Still maintaining the core character of Walton and Hollingworth’s delightfully odd harmony attached to their subversive spirit, there are clear points of melodic accessibility too.
The percussive ‘Falling Into Me’ is structured into several different sections using some varied musical palettes, showcasing the duo’s willingness to think outside the box for interesting song arrangements. A combination of guitar and string machine colours the more introspective ‘Snakes & Ladders’, while ‘I Will Be Waiting’ sounds not unlike FEVER RAY attempting a CHVRCHES number.
The organ-led instrumental ‘The Cat’s Pyjamas’ effectively acts as an intro to ‘Cool & Collected’ which at nine minutes makes an epic statement about insecurity. Despite the progressive influence of GENESIS, the very slow build perhaps stretches things out a bit too much. But to their credit, it’s an indication of LET’S EAT GRANDMA’s sense of ambition if nothing else. That ambition is more successfully realised on ‘Donnie Darko’, their eleven minute tribute to the troubled teenager haunted by a monstrous rabbit-like figure.
Utilising melodic guitar reminiscent of THE DURUTTI COLUMN at the start before morphing into a wonderful movement of cascading electronics set to a metronomic beat, there are also some passionate reflections in an afflicted vocal style recalling POLLY SCATTERGOOD on the subject of human suffering. And then without warning, ‘Donnie Darko’ drifts into a glorious synthony before calming to its conclusion.
While not perfect, this album has plenty to enjoy about it. A personal record that retains a degree of innocence while establishing an understanding of more worldly issues, ‘I’m All Ears’ marks LET’S EAT GRANDMA as an act of great potential who will only get better and impress further.
‘I’m All Ears’ is released by Transgressive Records/PIAS in CD, double vinyl LP and digital formats
LET’S EAT GRANDMA 2018 live dates include:
Vancouver Fortune Sound Club (30 August), Seattle Bumbershoot 2018 (31 August) Portland Doug Fir Lounge (1 September), San Francisco Rickshaw Stop (3 September), Los Angeles Moroccan Lounge (4 September), Chicago Empty Bottle (6 September), Toronto Drake Hotel (7 September), Montreal Bar le Ritz (8 September), Allston Great Scott (10 September), Brooklyn Baby’s All Right (12 September), Washington DC U Street Music Hall (13 September), London Heaven (27 September), Utrecht TivoliVredenburg (3 November)*, Brussels Ancienne Belgique (5 November)*, Cologne Live Music Hall (6 November)*, Berlin Tempodrom (7 November)*, Hamburg Docks (9 November)*, Stuttgart LKA-Longhorn (11 November)*, Munich Muffathalle (12 November)*, Milan Fabrique (14 November)*, Lausanne Les Docks (15 November)*, Luxembourg Den Atelier (16 November)*
If Karin Dreijer and Trent Reznor made a record together, then they might sound like Norwegian leftfield duo SOFT AS SNOW.
After two EPs ‘Glass Body’ and ‘Chrysalis’ released in 2014 and 2015 respectively, the Berlin based pairing of Oda Egjar Starheim and Øystein Monsen finally make the plunge on the long playing trail with their first album ‘Deep Wave’ out in April 2018.
As can be expected from an act that may or may not have named themselves after the song by MY BLOODY VALENTINE, creative use of noise is one of SOFT AS SNOW’s key philosophies. But this is not to say that they eschew melody or song structures.
Indeed, Monsen says of ‘Deep Wave’: “We’ve both always been drawn to the idea of pop music, and are interested in how far you can stretch the boundaries, before it becomes something else. For us, this is essentially a pop album”.
The excellent lead single ‘Snake’ is a fine calling card for ‘Deep Wave’, with stuttering drum machine and whirring synth bass coupled to Starheim’s unsettling distorted vocals, forming an amalgam of congruous intonation and decipherable words before the whole thing rumbles to aural implosion!
A film created by Conrad Pack to visualise ‘Snake’ puts the song into mindbending context with its surreal computer animation that at various points enters space and other strange dimensions. Given SOFT AS SNOW’s strident experimental sound, it is perhaps not surprising to learn that Starheim has a background in performance art, while Monsen drummed in noise rock bands.
‘Deep Wave’ is not an easy listen by any means, but sees Starheim and Monsen fully committed to their ethos and growing as artists, especially on the desolate atmospheres of ‘Sleep/Slip’ and ‘Mass’. But the new single ‘Pink Rushes’ is even more warped and uncompromising.
‘Deep Wave’ develops on the promise of their earlier work; ‘I Adore’ from the ‘Chrysalis’ EP was an intriguing slice of witch house quite obviously inspired by THE KNIFE’s ‘Silent Shout’, although given a more aggressive stance with its blend of live percussion over programmed beats and icy layers of synths. Meanwhile, the title track of the ‘Glass Body’ EP showcased a fragility and vulnerability amongst the brooding upbeat cacophony of trancey sounds.
This is not synthwave, this is ‘Deep Wave’. Unconventional, innocent, fierce, tuneful, haunting and danceable all at same time, SOFT AS SNOW have generated curiosity in their weird little world.
The world found itself in a rather antagonistic and divisive state this year, as if none of the lessons from the 20th Century’s noted conflicts and stand-offs had been learnt.
Subtle political messages came with several releases; honorary Berliner MARK REEDER used the former divided city as symbolism to warn of the dangers of isolationism on his collaborative album ‘Mauerstadt’. Meanwhile noted Francophile Chris Payne issued the ELECTRONIC CIRCUS EP ‘Direct Lines’ with its poignant warning of nuclear apocalypse in its title song. The message was to unite and through music as one of the best platforms.
After a slow start to 2017, there was a bumper crop of new music from a number of established artists. NINE INCH NAILS and GARY NUMAN refound their mojo with their respective ‘Add Violence’ and ‘Savage (Songs From A Broken World)’ releases, with the latter recording his best body of work since his imperial heyday.
But the first quarter of the year was hamstrung by the anticipation for the 14th DEPECHE MODE long player ‘Spirit’, with other labels and artists aware that much of their potential audience’s hard earned disposable income was being directed towards the Basildon combo’s impending album and world tour.
Yet again, reaction levels seemed strangely muted as ‘Spirit’ was another creative disappointment, despite its angry politicised demeanour.
Rumours abounded that the band cut the album’s scheduled recording sessions by 4 weeks. This inherent “that’ll do” attitude continued on the ‘Global Spirit’ jaunt when the band insulted their loyal audience by doing nothing more than plonking an arena show into a stadium for the summer outdoor leg.
Despite protestations from some Devotees of their dissatisfaction with this open-air presentation, they were content to be short-changed again as they excitedly flocked to the second set of European arena dates with the generally expressed excuse that “it will be so much better indoors”.
By this Autumn sojourn, only three songs from ‘Spirit’ were left in the set, thus indicating that the dire record had no longevity and was something of a lemon.
Suspicions were finally confirmed at the ‘Mute: A Visual Document’ Q&A featuring Daniel Miller and Anton Corbijn, when the esteemed photographer and visual director confessed he did not like the album which he did the artwork for… see, it’s not just The Electricity Club 😉
Devotees are quick to say all criticism of DEPECHE MODE is unfair, but the band can’t help but make themselves easy targets time and time again. But why should the band care? The cash is coming, the cash is coming…
The Wirral lads demonstrated what the word spirit actually meant on their opus ‘The Punishment Of Luxury’, while the former class mate of Messrs Gore and Fletcher demonstrated what a soulful, blues-influenced electronic record should sound like with ‘Other’.
As Tony Hadley departed SPANDAU BALLET and Midge Ure got all ‘Orchestrated’ in the wake of ULTRAVOX’s demise, the ‘Welcome To The Dancefloor’ album directed by Rusty Egan, to which they contributed, became a physical reality in 2017.
Now if DM plonked an arena show into the world’s stadiums, KRAFTWERK put a huge show into a theatre. The publicity stunt of 2012, when Tate Modern’s online ticket system broke down due to demand for their eight album live residency, did its job when the Kling Klang Quartett sold out an extensive UK tour for their 3D concert spectacular.
No less impressive, SOULWAX wowed audiences with their spectacular percussion heavy ‘From Deewee’ show and gave a big lesson to DEPECHE MODE as to how to actually use live drums correctly within an electronic context.
Mute Artists were busy with releases from ERASURE, LAIBACH and ADULT. but it was GOLDFRAPP’s ‘Silver Eye’ that stole the show from that stable. LCD SOUNDSYSTEM returned after seven years with their ‘American Dream’ and it was worth the wait, with the most consistent and electronic record that James Murphy’s ensemble has delivered in their career.
2017 was a year that saw acts who were part of the sine wave of Synth Britannia but unable to sustain or attain mainstream success like BLUE ZOO, B-MOVIE, FIAT LUX and WHITE DOOR welcomed back as heroes, with their talent belatedly recognised.
Across the Baltic Sea, Finnish producer JORI HULKKONEN released his 20th album ‘Don’t Believe In Happiness’ while nearby in Russia, a duo named VEiiLA showcased an unusual hybrid of techno, opera and synthpop and ROSEMARY LOVES A BLACKBERRY offered a ‘❤’.
One of the year’s discussion points was whether Synthwave was just synthpop dressed with sunglasses and neon signs but whatever, Stateside based Scots but MICHAEL OAKLEY and FM-84 made a good impression with their retro-flavoured electronic tunes.
Female solo artists had strong presence in 2017 as FEVER RAY made an unexpected return, ZOLA JESUS produced her best work to date in ‘Okovi’ and HANNAH PEEL embarked on an ambitious synth / brass ‘Journey to Cassiopeia’. Meanwhile, SARAH P. asked ‘Who Am I’ and MARNIE found ‘Strange Words & Weird Wars’ as ANI GLASS and NINA both continued on their promising developmental path.
Respectively, Ireland and Scotland did their bit, with TINY MAGNETIC PETS and their aural mix of SAINT ETIENNE and KRAFTWERK successfully touring with OMD in support of their excellent second album ‘Deluxe/Debris’, while formed out of the ashes of ANALOG ANGEL, RAINLAND wowed audiences opening for ASSEMBLAGE 23.
Despite getting a positive response, both iEUROPEAN and SOL FLARE parted ways while on the opposite side of the coin, Belgian passengers METROLAND celebrated five years in the business with the lavish ‘12×12’ boxed set
Overall in 2017, it was artists of a more mature disposition who held their heads high and delivered, as some newer acts went out of their way to test the patience of audiences by drowning them in sleep while coming over like TRAVIS on VSTs.
With dominance of media by the three major labels, recognition was tricky with new quality traditional synthpop not generally be championed by the mainstream press. With Spotify now 20% owned by those three majors, casual listeners to the Swedish streaming platform were literally told what to like, as with commercial radio playlists.
It is without doubt that streaming and downloading has created a far less knowledgeable music audience than in previous eras, so Rusty Egan’s recent online petition to request platforms to display songwriting and production credits was timely; credit where credit is due as they say…
While The Electricity Club does not dismiss Spotify totally and sees it as another tool, it should not be considered the be all and end all, in the same way vinyl is not the saviour of the music industry and in physics terms, cannot handle the same dynamic range as CD.
Music is not as emotionally valued as it was before… that’s not being old and nostalgic, that is reality. It can still be enjoyed with or without a physical purchase, but for artists to be motivated to produce work that can connect and be treasured, that is another matter entirely.
However, many acts proved that with Bandcamp, the record company middle man can be eliminated. It is therefore up to the listener to be more astute, to make more effort and to make informed choices. And maybe that listener has to seek out reliable independent media for guidance.
However, as with the shake-up within the music industry over the last ten years, that can only be a good thing for the true synthpop enthusiast. And as it comes close to completing its 8th year on the web, The Electricity Club maintains its position of not actually promoting new acts or supporting any scene, but merely to write about the music it likes and occasionally stuff it doesn’t… people can make their own mind up about whether to invest money or time in albums or gigs.
Yes, things ARE harder for the listener and the musician, but the effort is worthwhile 😉
Every now and again an album passes under the radar, being understated and not necessarily given the attention it deserves. But as we are entering the fully autumnal atmospheres, one opus stands out to fulfil the musical void, heading towards the wintery blues.
‘Okovi’ is ZOLA JESUS’ fifth long playing offering, which brings back the previously abandoned colder auras adored by her followers.
America’s ZOLA JESUS aka Nicole Hummel aka Nika Roza Danilova debuted in 2009 with the magnificently underrated ‘The Spoils’.
Having quickly aligned herself with the Ice Maiden Of Synth, Sweden’s FEVER RAY, who she supported live, Danilova started building a rather faithful fan base.
Unlike her musical colleagues such as GRIMES, GAZELLE TWIN or KARIN PARK, Danilova with her operatic voice, plays within the boundaries of exceptional vocals over her very own take on electronica. All that against the backdrop of freezing Russian inspired themes, brings along a serving of uncommon coldness and eerie uncertainty.
‘Okovi’ or “shackles” in many Slavic languages, marks another symbolic journey for ZOLA JESUS, this time affected directly by her loved ones’ misfortunes. If life’s a struggle, we all carry our own shackles, which would stunt our progress, but it’s essential to learn how to exist through the journey regardless.
And with this theme in mind, Danilova invites to travel alongside her; a painful walk through the life path to perhaps let the shackles fall eventually.
From the dark opening with ‘Doma’, Slavic for “Home”, all the way to the wonderfully cinematic, heavenly orchestral ‘Half Life’, with nothing but monumental voice over sublime melody, Danilova takes one on a trip of self-discovery and self-respect.
Surreal, fear inducing and menacing strings lead into ‘Exhumed’, which opens up into a tribal magnificence of drums, along with a plethora of synthesised sounds and haunting choirs; a grown-up EVANESCENSE in essence.
How different is ‘Remains’ with its goth danceability factor, with powerful piano elements and iridescent vocals, or ‘Soak’ with the pop particles, reinforcing the message of support (“you should know I will never let you down”) with hauntingly beautiful vocal execution?
‘Ash To Bone’ continues the monochrome feel with classic instruments entwined with the wires of sparse electronica, which repeats in ‘Witness’, the latter being a melancholically wholesome offering of help against the darkest thoughts, “to keep the knife from you”.
‘Siphon’ takes the message of lending a helping help to those in depths of depression (“we just want to save you… we just want to show you there’s more to life”), Danilova “won’t let you bleed out, can’t let you bleed out” over an offbeat extravaganza of mesmerising noises, which towards the end become gritty and grizzly.
This leads into the masterfully menacing ‘Veka’, which features samples of words spoken backwards, similar to those used by Lynch in his celebrated ‘Twin Peaks’ series every time deceased Laura Palmer spoke. They certainly add to the spooky feel of the tune, being ghostly and not from this word entirely. The song flourishes into an alarmingly paced hybrid of euphoric revelation a la FAITHLESS’ ‘Insomnia’.
“If it doesn’t make you wiser, doesn’t make you stronger, doesn’t make you live a little bit, why do you do it?” Danilova cries in ‘Wiseblood’, questioning the motivations in our actions. Why do we hurt ourselves continuously? To learn perhaps…
The subject of depression, feeling unnecessary and unwanted has been portrayed by many artists over the years, throughout many genres, taking on many shapes and forms.
But what Danilova shows here is not just hope; it’s the realisation that it’s ok to be less than happy some of the time, to carry your “shackles” and to be ordinary. And it’s ok to think dark thoughts, it’s cathartic.
By far, ‘Okovi’ is her most grown-up, wholesome offering. Musically and otherwise, Danilova excels herself, having fought her own demons, and in the process creating an electronic masterpiece.
Congratulations ZOLA JESUS, you have made an album which will knock many of their pedestals. You have certainly erected yourself a monument here.