Six Of The Best: James Edge And The Mindstep - Holly Elle - SHEL - Clem Snide - Alexis & the Samurai - Dia

James Edge And The Mindstep - Widdershins.

Background promo - James Edge is already a studious musical maestro and a top drawer composer. The Kent-raised musician studied composition to master’s degree level under Joe Duddell - arranger for the likes of Elbow and New Order. After moving to London and starting to gig in 2006, he formed James Edge and the Mindstep to record 2010 debut album ‘In The Hills, The Cities’. The working relationships he built around this time would provide him with some dependable collaborators, including regular engineer and occasional co-producer Tom Aitkenhead, best known for his work with Laura Marling and Bloc Party. A core jazz-folk trio of Edge, double bassist Andy Waterworth and drummer Avvon Chambers materialised. Together the trio started recording second album ‘Machines He Made’ over a five day period tracking everything live and only overdubbing the backing vocals. The songs were largely unrehearsed, with band members and additional session players mostly having not heard the pieces before. This spontaneous hodgepodge has resulted in some of the most whimsical and deeply experimental music to come out of the capital in a while. The eerie acoustics of Nick Drake inform the atmospherics of much of James’s songwriting, but his sheer compositional nous - which draws on aspects of jazz, modern classical music and punk rock and roll - elevates songs like ‘On A Red Horse’ and 'Four Two Four' to a place far above any glib and generic categorisation.

This year has seen the praise surrounding Edge get more fervent. ‘Where We’re Going To’, released by Folkstock in February, has been played by Alex Lester on Radio 2 and Tom Robinson on 6Music., while ‘Becoming’, the flipside on that AA single release, was premiered and made song of the day on Folk Radio UK. The ‘On A Red Horse’ EP also received glowing reviews from R2 and Fresh On The Net amongst others. Any praise Edge gets is well given. He is a modern day Zappa, channelling his eccentric art through folk arrangements to create something deeply surprising, raw, and unnerving. Website here.

From the forthcoming December 9th album release ‘Machines He Made’ the song 'Widdershins' exudes a mixture of acoustic energy and lively vocals that interplay with each other seemingly spontaneously. This is an exceptional folk based album, which mixes in hints of jazz, chamber and more modern styles. It's no surprise that we have featured two songs already this year from James Edge And The Mindstep, and with a date now set for the album, I would recommend checking out the other features, ahead of the release.


Holly Elle - I'm Scared.

Background - An electrifying bond of authenticity links modern chanteuse Holly Elle’s radiant voice to lyrics, melodies and beats. With soul infused pop as a point of reference – and the mantra “No labels, no rules, no limits” – Holly arrives with verve, vision and vibe. 

While the press might portray Holly as a “Pop Powerhouse” there are far more complex dimensions to her ever-evolving artistry. Whether fronting a full throttle band, commanding a concert stage with electronic tracks or in an intimate venue accompanied by only an acoustic guitarist, she is equally enthralling. “The whole point of making music is for me to connect,” she confirms.

Originally from Chestermere, a small community just outside of Calgary, Alberta, Canada, Holly’s earliest musical influences were nurtured by her parents’ house parties as a community of European immigrants shared the sounds of their respective musical heritages. Extended car trips with the family introduced her to a soundtrack of Sixties and Seventies classics and the Brit-pop brought back from England by her brothers who were studying abroad provided a modern melodic counterpoint. Classically trained with a Bachelors of Music in Vocal Performance from Winnipeg, Manitoba, and with inclusion on two Canadian albums: Things You Never Thought I’d Say by Freddy and Around the Universe in 80 Minutes – A Tribute to Klaatu, Holly was ready to launch a career in the U.S. – home to her favourite pop divas.

Holly appreciates both her career as an independent artist and her adopted city. “I love the feel of Nashville,” she says. “It helps me to take a breath and to slow down.” From song to stage to video and beyond, Holly celebrates all of the elements in her escalating career. As a complex Gemini with a treasure of talents and corresponding business acumen, her goals remain simple and sincere. “Loving music, continuing to make it, and finding an outlet,” she concludes. Website here.

Holly Elle's melodic and powerful vocals drive 'I'm Scared' along, with a complementing piano based soundtrack. It's a classic and contemporary pop song, with passionate vocals standing out.


SHEL - You Could Be My Baby.

Background - The billowing curtains of sound on Just Crazy Enough, the second full length album from virtuoso indie-folk band SHEL, will be both familiar and far-out to fans of the exciting sister quartet. The classically inspired mandolin, violin and piano are there, along with the band's glowing vocal harmonies. But we also hear dense, ethereal textures that hover between the digital and the analog. Grooves are deeper, emboldened with electronic ambiance and beat-boxing. The overall effect sheds light on their broad collection of influences, from the daring rock bands of the 60s to the contemplative composers of the 18th Century, and even the waves of modern electronica. Because or in spite of this effervescent mashup, Just Crazy Enough is a masterful move for SHEL. It's the integral, front-to-back album statement the band has been preparing to make since they began making music.

Dynamic change and self-searching was inevitably going to be a big part of SHEL's story in these early career years. Sisters Eva, Hannah, Sarah and Liza Holbrook are, after all, twenty-something women, born in a five-year span and raised in a bohemian, art-loving family in Fort Collins, CO. Each found an instrument to master early on, studying classical music while composing and arranging unique works for their anomalous instrumentation, violin, mandolin, piano and drums. They gained performing experience working with their songwriter father, and soon had festival promoters and media figures championing their fresh, intricately drawn sound.

SHEL is now touring and creating relentlessly in the hothouse environment of the 21st century music business. "We've always made our living playing music,' says Sarah Holbrook, "I dropped out of two different colleges, before it finally sank in that I was supposed to be playing music with my sisters full time. We signed with Republic Records early on, but escaped the 'artist protection program' and we're prouder than ever to be waving our indie banner." Website here.

The video for 'You Could Be My Baby' stands out in a crowded world, with something a little unsettling in the emotionless faces, that really works with the song. Indie folk is perhaps the roots of the song, it's hooks dig deep, leaving me now needing to check the album out.


Clem Snide - Better (2016 Remaster).

Background - Clem Snide's debut album "You Were A Diamond" issued on vinyl for first time with bonus digital download tracks. (HHBTM Records), Release Date: November 18th, 2016.

Excerpt from interview conducted a few years back w/ HHBTM founder & CEO Mike Turner for article about the label called HHBTM Records: 10 Years Of Angst & Regret.

Q: So given that you were already hanging out in Athens a lot, In the Aeroplane Over the Sea must have been a big deal for you when it came out.

A: Not really. At the time, I was just completely obsessed with this record by Clem Snide called You Were a Diamond that to me just did everything Neutral Milk did, but did it so much better. More heartfelt, more raw. In fact I actually kind of slammed the Neutral Milk record in my zine because there seemed to be all this hype behind it while this other record that I loved so much was just getting brushed aside. But of course I kept hearing Aeroplane everywhere I went and eventually yeah it clicked with me and I realised it was brilliant and everything people say it is. So yeah, I guess I felt a little embarrassed about that.

Q: Embarrassed because you’d said Clem Snide’s record was better?

A: No. I’ve never been embarrassed about that. That record’s amazing. It still kills me that nobody seems to know about it. Some records you put out because you like them, some records because you love them, and some records you put out because it’s an obsession and you want the whole world to hear this thing that has so much to offer.

You Were A Diamond is a record that is both haunting and haunted (that cello, the way it mimics the scraping of fragmented skull against fragmented brain). Like paintings done on glass instead of canvas, fragile and yet somehow more luminous. Clem Snide’s music is impossible to reduce to a literal description—can’t call it alt-country when there’s a cello, call it lo-fi even though you’re able to hear every note, call it folk, even though there is a predominant electric guitar. All of this adds up to the most unlikely of sonics. Call it Clem Snide. USA Vinyl pre-order here.

From what is for me a fabulous album 'Better' gives but a flavour of what's in store on the reissued 'You Were A Diamond' album. Mixing alt rock with Americana and even indie folk styling, it really is a fine collection of songs and the six accompanying bonus tracks just add to the story. Definitely one for vinyl fans to consider, or for those of us who missed out on the album first time around, then come and feast your ears on this.


Alexis & the Samurai - Dogs.

Background - The duo of songwriters Alexis Marceaux and Sam Craft, the group brings to life a bold, Folk-Pop sound for the masses. The group creates a diverse spectrum of sounds, in which the duo learned how to multi-task and play several instruments for the release.

Performing everything as a duo has pushed Marceaux and Craft in new directions as songwriters. Both are classically trained musicians (voice for her; composition and violin for him) who have channelled their training into a catchy indie-pop sound. They build songs from scratch in the studio, each bringing in ideas that they work on together. The songs are born of the musicians’ own experiences.

Exiled after having lost everything in hurricane Katrina, Alexis Marceaux has spent the last decade returning home and building up a career from scratch. The meantime has been hard-fought but fruitful, with appearances at The New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, Voodoo Music Experience, SXSW, and several tours of the US and Europe. Alexis and bandmate Sam Craft met in 2009 and initially teamed up for Alexis' sophomore effort Orange Moon (2011). Under the tutelage and engineering of The Polyphonic Spree’s Rick Nelson, the duo drew an all-star cast, 25 of NOLA’s finest musicians of every genre for a big, lush, indie-pop opus with a distinct Louisiana flavor.

Marceaux put out her solo release Dandelion in '09, and its songs were picked up by various television shows (MTV's The Real World, E!'s Keeping Up With the Kardashians, and others), but with Orange Moon, she’s elevated herself into a "songwriting force to be reckoned with" (No Depression), securing more media placements, as well as rotation in Starbucks cafés and other stores. The duo latest LP is Move Into View. Bandcamp here.

'Dogs' is delightful. The same can be said of the latest album (Move Into View). Folk pop with energised moments, competing with beautiful vocals and harmonies, the duo deserve to be noticed.


Dia - Covered In Light

Background - Dia is the stunning project of composer and performer, Danielle Birrittella. Her debut EP, Tiny Ocean, released with Manimal Records, features songs produced by Joey Waronker (Beck, REM, Atoms for Peace), Tim Carr (The Americans, HAIM) and Frankie Siragusa (theLAB).

Raised on a Hindu ashram, she sang ceremonial ragas as a child, which led to training and performing as an opera singer throughout the U.S. and Europe. Along these travels, she began experimenting with music and writing song fragments on a ukulele, which was gifted to her by her brother. Dia reminisces how she "would literally sit on the floor of my bathroom and come up with melodies". Encouraging reactions from those close to her, reinforced her musical path. Tiny Ocean showcases Dia's lush baroque-pop sound, which incorporates etherial vocal textures abstracted by organic percussion, electric guitars, ukulele, tiple, cellos, and drones. Her breathtaking debut is inspired by a 12th century poem in which Kafiristan confesses "since you love me and I love you the rest matters not”. This message is so awakening to Dia, she admits "the idea of just total surrender to love, martyrdom for love is power". Tiny Ocean is Dia’s version of that, "tie a knot around my tiny ocean, hammer me to every wall you build... burn me with your brightness…"

Dia’s practise as a classically trained opera singer induced an incredibly critical ear. Her influences of classical music, such as Baroque and French Romantics are beautifully infused with modern experimental cinematic folk on her debut EP. She imagines the ideal time and place to listen to Tiny Ocean is on a long drive in the car, "The grandness and the movement of being on the road supports the grandness and the movement of the songs".

A native of New England, and graduate of New York University (BA) and California Institute of the Arts (MFA), she has lived and worked as an artist in New York, France, and Italy. Highlighted performances have included Disney Hall's REDCAT - Los Angeles, La Musica Lirica - Italy, The Chautauqua Institute - New York, La Main d'Or - Paris, and The Ludwig Foundation - Cuba. Tiny Ocean is currently available worldwide. Facebook here.

First of three songs on the Tiny Ocean EP 'Covered In Light' is aptly described as experimental indie folk/Baroque pop. The theme continues throughout the EP, which has a distinct and quite unique and pleasing feel, love it!