Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Three amazing female choral works

Back in the distant past (and doesn't it really feel that way?) of 2005, I reviewed a copy of the "Bitpop EP" by Bishi for the now-defunct Decode magazine. I described it as "Bouncy theatrical madpop" ... "like getting trapped in Trafalgar Square on a fairground carousel that’s going at several wrong speeds at once". A couple of years back I finally saw her live at Glastonbury doing something like ::this:: on stage, complete with Union-flag head-t0-toe smothered dancers, which rather proved my point!

When you get past the theatrics, though, what is really pinning down the hold on your attention is Bishi's obvious intelligence and her voice, and both are at the fore in the work she commissioned work she made for Brooklyn's Youth Chorus earlier this year, Dia Ti Maria. Bishi recorded all 50 voices on this recording herself, and you can read more about its themes and origins on her Soundcloud.

Bishi - Dia Ti Maria

Hazlitt is another artist who has moved from making often-bouncy pop/rock in bands like the brilliant Tiger Force (I saw them once at Bridgwater Arts Centre! Which is badly affected by the cuts, grrr) to embrace a classical style. You can pledge for the forthcoming Hazlitt album ::here:: and raise money for good causes including riot relief funds at the same time. Here is the beautiful video for Introit.

Hazlitt - Introit

Making up a trio of women-you-might-otherwise-have-heard-on-6music, doing-stuff-you-could-hear-on-Radio-3, are the majestic Gaggle, who earlier in the year produced a reworked version of a piece commissioned by the Women's Institute in 1969 called The Brilliant and the Dark. They say "The libretto approaches history from the Middle Ages to WWII through the eyes of women, via characters including witch-hunters, embroiderers, crusaders’ wives, plague stricken women, mourners and war workers". Their version mixes the kind of chorus you'd hear soundtracking enchanted forests in early Disney films with skittery drum-and-bass percussion, and the almost-spoken-word incantations that are typical Gaggle fare. You can get a flavour of it on this Vimeo clip, and download the whole work if you subscribe to their website.

The Brilliant and The Dark from Open Music Archive on Vimeo.

Monday, 7 November 2011

Free downloads - Glastonbury Festival Competition Alumni: Liz Green, Yusuf Azak, Emily Barker

I'm so excited to see Liz Green (a) still making music, and (b) being picked up by bloggers everywhere! I remember listening to the demo she sent in for the Glastonbury emerging talent competition non-stop in the weeks leading up to the finalists' selection back in 2007, and was almost as delighted as I think she was shocked when she won a slot on the Pyramid stage that year through it. Things were quiet for a while, then last year a collection of those early recordings was put out - and now the long-awaited debut album is finally to be released next week.

'O, Devotion' is going to feature several of the same tracks I had on repeat on that demo all the way back then, but to judge from the version of opening track 'Hey Joe' she's giving away, these are going to be new and thoroughly enriched recordings.

So many early reviews have focused, understandably, on her remarkable voice; but she's also a powerful songwriter, and has never been afraid to sing about political as well as personal situations. If you haven't seen it yet, don't miss the video for Displacement Song, which plays on the shadow-puppet aesthetic Liz uses on her self-designed album covers (and even sometimes to my knowledge in her shows)!

Free download: Liz Green - Hey Joe

Yusuf Azak's was another demo we had the same year. We weren't able to secure a slot for him at the festival, but I've been following him ever since, and have had the honour of working on a track with him as well as featuring his music in an issue of Attack!!!!.

Yusuf Azak - The Key Underground by Song, by Toad

Here's Yusuf performing another standout track from Turn on the Long Wire, live:

Yusuf currently has his whole new EP up for free download - I'd grab it before he changes his mind, if I were you, and then buy the album.

Free downloads:
Yusuf Azak - Prizefighter EP
Yusuf Azak and Wes White - The Key Underground

Emily Barker and the Red Clay Halo - another 2007 finalist (god it was a good year)... will also be known to anyone who followed the crazy Storm the Charts project I did. A little while after, Emily invited me up to one of her Folk in a Box performances, which is where a performer is sat in a little shed and you go in and they perform to you as an audience of one!! Being so close to that beautiful voice was pretty intense. If Folk in a Box is ever on tour again and you get the chance, put yourself down to be an audience! The song Emily played me is one of those she is offering as a free download from her wonderful album Almanac.

It has to be said Emily does seem to particularly like performing in sheds:

Free download: Emily Barker - Ropes