The Quarantine Chronicles: Today’s 10 Soundtrack Recommendations (Local/Independent artists)

Greetings, Earth.

It occurred to me today that I am very privileged to have a massive network of friends who also double as talented artists, often slaving away at jobs they may (or may not) resent during the day in order to support their dreams of melting faces and stomping around on huge stages during the night. It’s an exhausting, yet often rewarding, lifestyle that doesn’t pay well but provides countless memories and anecdotes to be passed on to grandchildren and drunken strangers at parties.
Over the years, I’ve taken for granted the fact there really are so many hard-working individuals in the post-rock/math-rock/alternative scene. It’s a right slog and seeing the impact on freelance artists in the wake of this pandemic has been really disheartening. For this reason, I’ve decided to pursue this as a feature of sorts, highlighting pillars of the creative community who might be struggling for work at the moment or maybe just need a boost for their livelihood.
This post is mainly an acknowledgement of the time, money and energy given to making music and art. I want to celebrate and spread the word loud and far, so that even more people can enjoy these artists. I’m on my lunch break whilst working from home so I’ve decided to basically just limit myself to 10 artists today, otherwise I’d probably never return to the mundane tasks that lie ahead…
So, without further ado:
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1) My band Hoamin! Cheeky introduction to us lot: we rehearse in a basement which is cosy and feels like a womb. We all listen to so many different styles of music and it shows with our sometimes subversive sounds. I think our ultimate aim is to create atmospheric sounds our audiences can lose themselves in, because we sure as hell love losing ourselves in it as we’re playing. Following a hiatus, we recently met up (now we’re hoping to resume virtually, given our whole crazy pandemic situation). Currently experimenting with a new sound for an upcoming E.P. but our debut E.P. “Looms Large” is available online.
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2) Trigger Thumb. Stumbled upon these guys by chance when they were on the same bill as Hoamin. We played a beautiful independent venue in Sheffield called the Audacious Art Experiment and life was never quite the same, after that. We kept in touch with the eclectic and explosive trio from Bradford, even playing with them at the intimate (and very wintery, from what I remember…) launch of our debut E.P. at the 1in12 in Bradford. I’ve since had the enormous privilege of working with maestro Arron (INSANELY TALENTED PRODUCER/MUSICIAN/PERSON) on one of his solo endeavours (Snowflake-inc) and hope to be working with him some more, on Hoamin sounds. I’ve got to say, perhaps the proudest moment was seeing Trigger Thumb take to the stage at Arctangent, where they absolutely destroyed their set and pulled in an impressively massive audience (given the fact they were playing so early in the day). Cannot stress how brilliant they are live- they’re animated and sweary, plus the bassist Damen potentially has the best bass face of any I’ve ever seen. Oh, they’re also some of the loveliest chaps going. Legit.

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3) Souer. Mesmerising live and catchy as heck. First heard about this lot through the recommendation of my esteemed bandmates, the ever-wonderful K-T and Scotsman Dunc. Souer had smashed a set at Strangeforms Festival and were later announced for Arctangent, which gave me a few months to familiarise myself with their recorded stuff. I am not exaggerating when I say that I had their “What Separates Us” release on repeat for weeks. There’s many components that I dig about their sound and aesthetic: they’ve got a grungy sort of “thrown-together” appeal about their music, I’m a big fan of their crunchy riffs that totally get crowds going and honestly, their blissful harmonies provide major inspiration because both Christina and Anya have ridiculously powerful belters but they also know how to reign that in and deliver some tender vox, too. I really, really look up to the frontwomen in this band and doubtless, many other young women do too!
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4) Tidesetter. My S/O is a riff-master in this stoner rock outfit from West Yorkshire. This isn’t a plug because he’s my boyfriend but actually because his band is pretty darned awesome, and that’s a statement I make with no bribes in the works. Tidesetter started off as a group of lads with an affinity for QOTSA and decided to give Homme and co a run for their money. They’ve graced many a basement and played The Parish in Huddersfield countless times, donning their red-rimmed eyes and overall bedhead aesthetic, but I feel like bigger things are on the cards for them, moving forward. You see, they’ve coincidentally just released some fresh material which demonstrates their venture in a slightly direction, perhaps reflective of their formation re-jig. The band is now lauding the enigmatic Keir as frontman and has also gained a Polish bolt-on riff-master by the name of Voy-Boy.  Their gigs are electric and I would 10/10 recommend, because I am that supportive girlfriend who can’t wait to see her boy-toy and his pallies eventually dominate an arena stage.
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5) Don Gonzo. Another Bradford band who have steadily built up their repertoire and played gigs dotted around the UK. Unlike the previous entries, Don Gonzo are a bit more of a Trudy and the Romance/King Krule/DeMarco vibe, that is to say that you can listen without substantial risk of whiplash from moshing too hard. They’re the sweetest lads going and their songs make you want to slow-dance till the early hours with a pint glued to your hand. I’ve heard a rumour that an album is in the pipelines and it would do you good, dear reader, to get yourself in line because Gonzo are perfect festival material and you’ll want to know the words to their songs for when you’re fighting for the front row.
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6) Nova Hands. Caught these guys live a few times now and genuinely can’t wait to see them again. They make disjointed riffs and odd time signatures seem effortless and also have the kind of melodies that stick in your head for days. There’s quite the discography available online so if you need material for a makeshift gig in your front-room over the weeks to come, you know where to go.
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7) Chiyoda Ku. Fuck. Just legendary to be honest. Honour to have seen them in a very intimate venue AND onstage at Arctangent, plus they were on the same bill as both  Hoamin and Trigger Thumb back at that Sheffield gig I mentioned in 2). Boy, I love how the stars align. There’s something very cinematic about their music, which seems to start off deceptively restrained before swelling and eventually exploding, leaving you just stood there in awe. I remember being stood with my mouth wide open, hair greasy and flapping in the breeze and speakers blasting my ears as I watched them onstage in Bristol. All I kept thinking was, whoa. I was just gobsmacked watching them smile their way through the amazing “Distraction from Distraction by Distraction“, thinking the whole time that they had managed to like conjure the same emotions and catharsis as John Murphy’s “In a Heartbeat” (the main theme from 28 Days Later). These guys are whack.
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8) Gerrard Bell-Fife. This stunner is a local hero who has toured with the likes of Crywank, bringing his beautiful voice and twinkly melodies to venues across Europe in recent years. It seems that Gerrard can basically pick up any instrument and play it confidently, being the talented bastard that he is. Amazing musician and a good pal to drink Buckfast with.
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9) Francobollo. Swedish souls who graced Bradford with their presence many moons ago and definitely stole some hearts in the process (mine included). Long Live Life is one of my favourite albums ever and definitely would make a great accompaniment to lounging outside in the garden in the recent, and rather suspiciously, fantastic weather as of late.
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10) The Blinders. Saw these dudes in a very sweaty and overfilled Hebden Bridge Trades Club last year. They’re stellar fellas who know how to get their crowd going with their riotous rebellion songs, referencing the likes of classic dystopian novels like Huxley’s Brave New World. Their music makes you feel like dancing, chugging a pint AND smothering your face in black paint and starting a revolution, all at the same time…
And that’s all folks. Well, for today.
Hope you enjoy! Oh, and do let me know what you think of the suggestions…

BOOK REVIEW: The Shining

Falling asleep whilst reading and waking up to these eyes facing you… I’m not okay.

I started The Shining by Stephen King only three days ago. I’ve been eager to read it for a long time and stumbled across this battered edition in the free bookstore perched on Darley Street in Bradford. Some of the pages are completely in tatters and there are water stains on others, implying that this book has been held by many hands and has seen many places. I enjoy the faded print and the fact that there’s not even a bar-code, it’s like I’m holding history every time I sit down to read.

I watched The Shining as a kid and it was powerful, enough so that at this age of twenty-five, even the sight of Jack Nicholson’s grin makes my skin crawl. I remember odd chunks of the film but honestly don’t know how much of the plot I absorbed. I was more captivated by the striking visuals, including that iconic shot of tidal blood descending upon a corridor, as two young girls hold hands in the centre of the floor and stare down the camera.

I’m more than halfway through the book. I’ve been as resistant as possible, prolonging the experience by putting the book down instead of reading on into the early hours of the morning. I imagine that if I had impulsively followed my whims, I’d have finished the damned thing in one sitting. However, I’ve had moments of genuine terror whilst reading some disturbing scenes and I’ve realised that my capacity to visualise can sometimes be a burden, as opposed to gift. For instance, last night I had to snap The Shining shut and read a few (completely unrelated) short stories from a Margaret Atwood collection, simply to drown out the images of bloated dead women and silver-eyed ghosts of the past.

Another reason I’ve exercised self-restraint is mental health preservation, as I’ve noticed that I can feel the claustrophobic grip of The Overlook Hotel through the pages. I can only praise this uncomfortable feeling as it’s clearly a product of incredible writing. The fact that King can make you feel the isolation, anxiety and insanity, as though you’re physically stuck with the Torrance family in the middle of a snow fortress, is a testament to his craftsmanship as the King of Horror.

Pulling myself away is proving to be a difficult task because King has thoroughly lured me in and I’ve found myself attached to recovering alcoholic Jack Torrance, his neurotic wife Wendy and the kid with the shine, Danny. Mystical powers of premonition and telepathy are powerful in young Danny but remain misunderstood by all parties, including himself. Danny is the window to the family’s secrets and he allows readers to peer into the darkest corners of his parents’ minds, which is pretty astounding considering he’s only five years old and can’t even read yet…

Jack holds onto feelings of inadequacy, Wendy holds onto the fear that her family unit may self-implode imminently, and Danny suppresses his otherworldly precognition abilities, fearing institutionalisation and the dissolution of his parents’ marriage. This would be dramatic enough, as the basis for a stage-play, but of course it only gets worse when King drops these fragile characters into the nightmarish setting of The Overlook Hotel.

Jack acquires a job as the Winter caretaker for the prestigious hotel and accepts the humble role, despite the fact he’s vastly overqualified, out of sheer desperation. A series of unfortunate circumstances have led to a fractured family unit and this new job is perceived as an opportunity to make amends. The Overlook Hotel will see no guests for many months as the winter snows essentially cut the hotel off from all civilisation. It ought to be a chance at a fresh start for the family but winds up, in true King fashion, being a seriously warped and twisted fight for survival.

I’ll be honest: I wasn’t expecting the emotional intensity that I’ve found thus far. I’m impressed by the dimensions of the strong characters as within other novels I’ve read by King, there’s the tendency to focus upon an extensive cast of characters. The Shining does introduce some supporting characters initially, yet as the snow thickens and time passes, we are left with the minimalistic trio of just the Torrance family. As they feel the implications of isolation from the outside world, readers are also subjected to that uneasy feeling of the world closing in. The text, at times, is erratic and reflects the jumbled thoughts (both spoken and unspoken) that are exchanged between the key protagonists. King jumps from one mental landscape to the other, sharing the streams of consciousness that lay beneath the surface. Readers are privy to the private thoughts, the locked-away musings that the family are too afraid to reveal to one another.

It’s thrilling. It’s captivating. It’s outright scary. The ghosts and ghouls lurking in the corridors are one thing, described in all their visual glory. Yet, above all, King’s depiction of alcoholism is utterly frightening and it’s hard not to feel the itch of Jack Torrance’s compulsion to turn back to the bottle. Alcohol is the catalyst to his ingrained temper and all it takes is a minor trigger for the fireworks to explode. He’s unstable and prone to fits of violence, making him the ultimate source of fear for his wife and son. As things get weirder in the hotel, Jack’s deep-rooted feelings of inadequacy begin to turn into a more sinister aggression, which he often directs towards his wife. There’s the constant question of: ‘Will he? Won’t he?’ as Jack is on the verge of breaking his sober stint from the very outset, thinking often of drinking, though he knows the consequences are dangerous. The Overlook shows us the gory and supernatural yet also makes us question whether we ought to be more afraid of the demons knocking around in our own heads. Reality and hallucination blur together, making it impossible to distinguish between lucidity and sleep. Are any of these horrors even real? Or have they been conjured up by the imagination of a stagnating and self-destructive author?

I am very much looking forward to finding out, if only I can brave finishing this novel during daylight hours today…