Sex Education: The first great TV show of 2019

I think we can all agree, the only thing more awkward than the greasy, confusing, acne-ridden years of puberty were the embarrassing and wholly uninformative sex education classes taught by your elderly Maths teacher who broke into a sweat every time he said “vulva”. “Sex” was the hushed word on everybody’s lips and with it spread increasingly ridiculous myths like a bad case of oral herpes. No one knew anything, even the people who had already “done it”. Thankfully, current media has picked up the mantle school curriculums so clumsily dropped and have taken it upon themselves to impart their wisdom of the nether regions. Netflix has already opened eyes to the grim truths of puberty with their hit show Big Mouth – a funny and ridiculous cartoon that everyone should check out, even if they think they know everything about S-E-X – and now they continue their wildly entertaining educational journey with Sex Education.

Sex Education follows Otis (Asa Butterfield of Boy in the Striped Pyjamas fame), a sexually repressed young man with a sexually liberated mother, Jean (played by the utterly fantastic Gillian Anderson of X-Files). Jean works from home as a sex therapist and despite this being a topic of distress for the irked Otis, it soon becomes apparent that her skills have rubbed off on Otis. Maeve (Emma Mackey) – a wickedly smart and blunt social outcast at high school – recognises Otis’ talent after seeing him couch a fellow student through a sexual problem. Maeve, being the cunning young entrepreneur that she is, convinces Otis to set up a high school-based sex counseling business with her for their sexually hapless student body. The plot unfolds with all the whacky fun and explicitly captivating sex tales you would imagine from this setup.

Along with a long line of ridiculous yet fully relatable sexual drama, the show also outlines a clear and captivating story arch thanks to the brilliance of the characters. It would have been so easy to simply rely on worn out high school stereotypes but thankfully Sex Education takes time to craft fully realised, complex characters. Thanks to this, it’s difficult to find a character you fully dislike as everyone has a characteristic that people can relate to or empathise with. The show strives to show that there’s more to people hidden behind the guise of Jock or Bully or Popular or Nerdy – everyone’s going through similar puberty issues and everyone’s got their backstory.

The realness portrayed on screen is helped in large part by the excellent casting. There wasn’t a weak performance in the bunch; everyone fully encapsulated their character. Amazingly, the majority of the main young cast are all fairly new to acting, with some only having two or three credits on their IMDB pages; this would not be at all recognisable based on their performances. Performances from Ncuti Gatwa (who played Otis’ enthusiastic and lovable best friend, Eric) and Emma Mackey, in particular, demonstrated a sort of tender beauty which should certainly help launch their acting careers.

The series offers more than any school curriculum could – it’s got intelligence and heart. The wide and inclusive scope of topics explored are handled with care and respect. The show takes time to analysis and explores each character’s issue and it gives the audience time to care and empathies even if they cannot personally relate. Although the show seems to tick off the list of topics that should be discussed, it never feels forced or like the audience is receiving a lecture and that’s mainly because the show as a whole feels so real and cleverly crafted.


Brains isn’t all Sex Education has, it’s bright in more ways than one. The actually visual aesthetic is brilliant in its fun, retro style. The series looks like a visual ode to American 80’s rom-coms from the likes of John Hughes, with enough eye-assaulting bright colours and clashing patterns to give a vintage fashion fan wet dreams. Despite the complete 80’s feel with aged architecture and furniture completing the retro portrait, it’s clear the series is not actually set in this period due to modern technology continually cropping up. Visually, it’s more like a little-idealized pocket of time that’s free from the constraints of reality.

This series was a delight, with far too many brilliant plot points and characters to discuss in just one review. Sex Education should be added to everyone’s Netflix list, whether you’re a sexual novice or practised expert. It’s difficult not to feel attached to the characters of Sex Education and with a second series planned, fans will surely be excited to see what’s still to cum (sorry). – Michaela Barton (@MichaelaBarton_)              

rating 9

Looking for some dark, spooky fun? The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina has you covered

Sabrina Spellman is facing all the typical troubles of teen-hood – a bully infested school, conflict with parental guardians, the looming spiritual imprisonment into Satan’s servitude, balancing friendships and a love life. Just classic teen drama, really.

A gritty reboot of a silly 90’s sitcom had so much potential to fail and yet The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina defy low expectations and proves itself a thoroughly decent show. Thank Satan for that! Sabrina’s life is messy, even more so than your typical adolescence, and sometimes this messiness can seep into the storytelling technique but despite some slight missteps, the journey as a whole is still entirely bewitching and rather charming.

Even though people are initially going to compare this show to Sabrina the Teenage Witch, it’s actually based on a comic series and is written by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, who also created the Netflix series, Riverdale. The series opens with our half-mortal, half-witch heroine, Sabrina, having to make a decision between her two lives. To fully come into her witch powers, she must sign her soul away to the Dark Lord in a coming-of-age ceremony however, this would also result in her giving up her human life, human friends and human boyfriend.

Despite playing with some dark, satanic plot points, this series still delivers the fun, mostly thanks to the excellent cast. As in the 90’s sitcom, the aunts are a prominent source of entertainment with their often-tumultuous relationship. Zelda and Hilda, played by Miranda Otto (Lord of the Rings) and Lucy Davis (The Office) respectively, act as Sabrina’s stern, logical voice of reason and her bumbling, empathetic heart. The one notable missing ingredient to the classic crew is the dryly witty and meme-able Salem the cat. Salem is present in this series but as a mute, protective Familiar of Sabrina. Though this alteration may be enough to turn old fans off the show entirely, all is not lost. The reins of sarcastic quip dispenser are picked up by Sabrina’s cousin, Ambrose.

Ambrose is a British, pansexual warlock bound to the house by a curse and living out their days helping the aunts with their funeral business. Though they’re not given as many classic lines as the 90’s sitcom Salem, they’re still a cheeky, laidback confidant for Sabrina and the acting performance of Chance Perdomo is brilliantly enjoyable.


The only slight hiccup (and I really do mean slight) in acting ability is the main star Kiernan Shipka of Mad Men fame. As a whole, she is a more than competent actor – she’s enduring, wholesome and you can’t help but root for her. However, she may be too sweetly innocent. In parts of the show which demands a sinister edge, it’s hard to see past her child-like innocent demeanour. However, seeing that she plays a sixteen-year-old who’s newly entering a darker period in her life, this tameness can be forgiven.

Other areas of the series suffer from slight stumbles also. Occasionally, the exposition vomit from characters can be clumsy and jarring, especially in the first episode. Despite the relatively short run of the series (with only 10 episodes), the show still can’t escape the mistake of using  a “filler episode” which really doesn’t contribute anything to the overall story arc and leads the series to feel like an unimportant Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode, with the dodgy monster costume design only hammering home this feel. The monster design throughout the series was rather hit-and-miss, with some looking like cheap trick-or-treat costumes. Oddly, for once the CGI was actually fairly decent, which suggests most of the budget went to this, leaving practical monster design quality to lag behind.

This show could have easily been light teen drama fluff but thankfully they do deliver with the horror. A lot of sequences are genuinely chilling, with sinister visuals that stick with you. There are plenty of storyline and visual references to classic horrors like the Exorcist, Night of the Living Dead, Evil Dead, Cronenberg, the fun is in trying to recognise them all – there are certainly enough to keep a horror buff entertained.


Another way they keep the show from leaning towards “useless fluff” is through the exploration of feminism. The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina uses witchcraft to explore female empowerment within the limitations set by men. The coven is described to Sabrina as her only path to power and yet the coven is controlled by male figures – the slimy high priest (Richard Coyle of Coupling) and Satan. These are who give witches their power but only at the cost of submission and enslavement. The ceremony of joining the Black Church is even described as a “marriage” to Satan. It’s this sacrifice of freedom that Sabrina fights against.

The series also presents another female-led group fighting for power except this group is the complete opposite of the Black Church. WICCA is a group Sabrina and her human friends created – it’s a group created for women by women to fight for more representative education and against transphobia in the school. The series is clearly conscious of social issues and represents LGBTQ+ and race discussions throughout but without seeming too overly preachy, which should keep people afraid about those mythical “PC police” quiet (though, let’s face it, they rarely give up an opportunity to complain).

The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina was enjoyable. Was it fantastic and without fault? No. The pacing was often a bit sloppy, acting occasionally cheesy and some special effects questionable. But did it hook me in and get me invested in the characters and plot points? Absolutely. If you’re looking for a spooky and fun binge this Halloween, this series is the show for you. – Michaela Barton (@MichaelaBarton_)

rating 7

Album Review: S/T by LUMP

words fae michaela barton (@MichaelaBarton_)                                                         rating 7

A successful experimental collaboration between two very distinct musicians is about as rare as spotting a dancing yeti. However, seeing that such a yeti is present in LUMP’s music videos and album art, it appears this fabled occurrence has finally come true.

A musical collaboration between Laura Marling and Tunng’s Mike Lindsay sounds pretty much exactly how you’d expect it. Marling takes the lead with vocals, bringing her signature poetic lyrics with her, whereas the instrumentals are mostly written by Lindsay and continue his usual relaxed, electronic compositions.

With first listening, opening track Late to the Flight sounds like Marling’s recent work, with calm guitar and laidback vocals, with only a distant hint of electronic hum. However, there’s still a definite new musical layer added by Lindsay – subtle enough to not be over-powering and ward off traditional Marling fans but enough to assure that this is an experimental collaboration and won’t be just more of the same old. Of course, Marling fans should be well used to a little experimentation as the singer has never shied away from it in her previous work. Regardless, this will be the first album to focus more heavily on modern instrumentals, with Lindsay proving the importance of composing instrumentals with as much care as crafting lyrics.

Marling’s vocal range is allowed full freedom in this album, though her often preferred tenor growl is present in many verses, choruses allow a rare vocal jaunt into the mezzo-soprano. May I be the Light is one such song that plays with hauntingly drawn out croons adding a bright lilt to the song. Lindsay keeps the synth instrumentals reserved to allow Marling’s vocals centre stage. The synths create a night-time feel, with an undercurrent of 80’s Bladerunner score. A growing urgency is added in the choruses with a galloping drum beat and the simple, monotone synth pattern raises in pitch along with Marling’s vocals in the chorus, mirroring her sudden elation.

The first notes of Rolling Thunder are mystical and weirdly wonderful, with hints of Kate Bush. The whole song sounds at odds with itself but in a very purposeful way. It’s intended oddity with the storm of abstractness being part of the charm. The lyrics are filled with odd, evocative imagery. Every line starts with “I’m a” or “We are” or “You” and there are multiple identities explored throughout the song, highlighting how everyone is more complex than just one title. Just like in her previous album Semper Femina, Marling plays with gender, subverting the usual binary constraints in lyrical perspective with repeated lines like “I’m your mother, I’m your father”, refusing to adhere to restricted gender roles in art. The chorus line “I’m a man, of a certain kind. I’m a woman, of a certain space and time” could be critiquing gender identity roles – men being allowed to choose their identity whereas women have their labels thrust upon them depending on when they exist and what they choose to do or wear. Rolling Thunder is the first track on the album to really show off Lindsay’s electronic musical layering skills and introduces listeners to the more playful, LSD-trip sounding songs.

Curse of the Contemporary was the first song released on the album and performs everything this debut intended. Marling’s vocal talent is at full force in this track, exploring the usually ignored higher notes and layering vocals to allow full submersion for the listener. Lindsay’s talents in instrumentals and tempo are also on point. The melody explores uncommon chord patterns in western music, with the verse almost following traditional Japanese melodies. There’s a musical energy brought by the arrangement and layering of instruments, without simply having to rely on loud percussions. The lyrics explore a well-known subject area for Marling, that of living in California from an outsider perspective. The song warns the listener of the escapist, often vain lifestyle in California.

Marling’s lyrics always seem to circle back to a feeling of dissatisfaction. In the running synth bass, 80’s arcade game sounding track Hand Hold Hero, lyrics discuss feeling trapped. “Oh my back to the wall, better that than trip and fall” seems to discuss the musical tendency to stick to what you know and not experiment, in case you fail to please your audience, something which Marling probably feared when writing for this collaboration. Shake your Shelter is again about feeling trapped, using the imagery of a naked crab desperately trying to find a home but feeling bored when stuck in one shell for too long. The lyrics are repeated throughout over a simple instrumental, with a layering effect on Marling’s vocals, which could signify the repetitive, monotonous cycle of life.

The final track – LUMP is a Product – is just an audio credits over music, which is helpful as a reviewer as we now know who to give credit to. However, as just a casual listener, it is a little strange and will likely be skipped on repeated listens, which reduces the total number of actual songs on this album to only six.

The only real critique for this album is that it left you wanting more. More songs and more abstract experimentation of traditional musical form. Lindsay seemed relatively timid throughout the album, only really getting to fully stretch his composing wings is songs like Curse of the Contemporary and Rolling Thunder. Despite this, the pairing or Marling and Lindsay seemed to work surprisingly well, hopefully, they’ll try collaborating again in the future and this time feel confident enough to fully immerse themselves into their new direction.

Courtney Barnett isn’t afraid to speak her mind on Tell Me How You Really Feel

By Michaela Barton (@MichaelaBarton_)

“I got a lot on my mind but I dunno how to say it” is a surprising sentiment from someone whose work is best known for smart lyrics, that always articulate relatable feelings so well.

Courtney Barnett’s recent release, Tell Me How You Really Feel continues her trend of brilliantly raw lyrics. No topic is too personal or taboo for Barnett not to include – such as mental health & toxic masculinity – she’s outspoken and this is her true talent.

Much like her lyrics, the instrumentals are often loud and unapologetic with flavours of grunge, garage rock and riot gurl. Barnett’s vocal stylings have retained her reserved and often sarcastic drone without tiring this sound out. However, this album is certainly not just a carbon copy of previous work. Barnett is growing as an artist and this album demonstrates this.

Dialling down the amps a little, Tell Me How You Really Feel had an even more intimate nature about it than previous work. The utter charm of Barnett is how relatable her music is – Tell Me How You Really Feel homed in on this feature more and has evolved her songs to feel like a private discussion, like she’s a confidante you can trust. Hopefulessness seems to directly address the listener, reassuring that “it’s okay to have a bad day” and you should “just get this one done then you can move along”. It’s gentler but doesn’t breach the territory of sappy. The song ends repeating “I’m getting louder now” as the music swells and starts to return to the usual volume of Barnett’s music. The song introduces the listener to a more confident album from Barnett – she has taken her broken heart and turned it into art and now she’s warmed up and ready to share it.

Barnett has always shined brightest when being brutally honest about her mental health. In City Looks Pretty, the chorus could be disregarded as simplistic with lyrics like “Sometimes I get sad, it’s not all that bad”, but in quintessential Barnett style, she delves deeper than the surface level lyrics and adds “One day, maybe never, I’ll come around”. Sung in an off-hand way, this deceptively simple lyric carries weight as Barnett fully accepts that she may never feel “normal” and this is no longer a paralysing realisation, it’s just a sad fact of life. City Looks Pretty also demonstrates her ever evolving musical maturity; changing up the tempo and experimenting with melody rather than continuing her usual steady grunge guitar instrumentals.

Quite a few songs on Tell Me How You Really Feel diverge from the expected Barnett sound and presents listeners with more interesting musical variations. Charity adds an unpredictable tempo whereas Need a Little Time is more laidback from her usual songs and adds background synth to the instrumental line-up. The album closes with Sunday Roast, which again like Hopefulessness demonstrates Barnett’s raw intimacy in this album in both lyrics and instrumentals. But no need for die-hard fans of Barnett’s original musical style to worry, this album still oozes that classic Barnett tone, especially in songs like Help Yourself and I’m Not Your Mother, I’m Not Your Bitch.

Nameless/ Faceless is a stand out single and is the epitome of Barnett. Directed towards sexism, the single is the audio equivalent of the middle finger. The verses are thickly layered with sarcasm perfectly performed with Barnett’s dry lilt, so much so it’s probable Barnett pulled a muscle rolling her eyes too hard during recording. Verses are reserved for calling out everyday sexism from men who probably spend their time tweeting insults from the bridge they live under. Initially, lyrics can be mistaken for genuine sympathy – “I wish that someone could hug you, must be lonely being angry, feeling over-looked” – but the punch of condescension reassures that Barnett has no time for that shit.

“He said ‘I could eat a bowl of alphabet soup and spit out better words than you’ but you didn’t” is clearly directed at any online trolls that try to degrade Barnett’s songwriting talent, all the while critiquing without showing any ability to perform themselves. The chorus really hits home, however. Borrowing Margaret Atwood sentiments: “Men are scared that women will laugh at them. I wanna walk through the park in the dark, women are scared that men will kill them”. Barnett addresses the stark reality between genders in everyday society, the fact that it’s not even safe for women to walk alone at night – “I hold my keys between my fingers”.

Tell Me How You Really Feel is a solid album. There’s nothing inherently wrong with it. Though some lyrics may seem simple, they still have a charm to them which allows this fault to go unchallenged. Song topics are addressed in an intelligent manner, without isolating the audience and though some instrumentals were softened in this album, there’s still plenty to tap along to. As with Barnett’s previous work, the lyrics were more impressive than the instrumentals, however, this album has hinted at a musical progression and it’s likely future work will continue to improve and experiment with the genre.

Aja is out to kill on new track ‘Finish Her’

words by michaela barton (@MichaelaBarton_)

Anyone who has watched All-Stars season 3 knows Aja is a force to be reckoned with and whether she’s dancing or rapping, she’ll floor you faster than her flying death drop. Her new track is a grime rap stuffed full of attitude and a wit sharp enough to cut her haters.

Finish Her is named and stylised after the Mortal Kombat games with the official video playing into this, the track incorporating soundbites from the visceral beat-em-up games. Though the track can be enjoyed alone, paired with the video it’s a treat. Aja seeps attitude in her delivery and is utterly enthralling, clearly demonstrating how she has leveled up her performance skills since her earlier debut on Season 9 of Drag Race. In the video, her looks from season 3 All Stars become characters and she gets played against herself, moving up in levels with each defeat. Sound familiar, Drag Race fans?

The backing track is a standard grime loop – the timings alternate to keep things interesting and there’s some nice synth work but in general, there’s nothing too adventurous or experimental on offer. However, that just gives the lyrics their time to shine. In true shady queen fashion, she’s ready to spill the tea (or, as demonstrated in her video, completely destroy the entire tea set).

Aja isn’t afraid to call out anyone and no one is safe on this track. Most people know Aja received plenty of hateful comments from “fans” of Drag Race, especially surrounding her feud with Valentina and this track acts as one giant clap back. There are a few sly lines about people believing a ‘wolf dressed up in glam’ which are likely directly about Valentina. The biggest lyrical fuck you in this track though is definitely reserved for her haters. She makes it clear she doesn’t care what people think: ‘I’m getting my laughs, I’m getting my tan, I’m living my life abroad with my man. What the fuck did you amount to? Commenting on who looks like who?

There are so many brilliant lines that demand the listener’s undivided attention. Aja’s music doesn’t come across like a drag queen using her status to try out a musical career. Aja has real musical talent and is a killer rapper, she could easily stand alone as a musical artist without her drag career.

The success of RuPaul’s Drag Race may be helping some drag careers attract more fans, but the double-edged sword is swung hard by online haters. So, for anyone who thinks their opinion of a drag queen is worth anything, Aja leaves you with this:

If any fucking bitch got some shit to say, say it to my motherfucking face or else it ain’t fucking shit … If it wasn’t for a contract half of y’all would’ve been slapped.’

Renata Zeiguer channels Lynch-style oddity on new LP ‘Old Ghost’

by michaela barton (@MichaelaBarton_  rating 8

In an interview, Renata Zeiguer explains she wrote Old Ghost while watching Twin Peaks for the first time. She describes enjoying “abstract darkness and also an abstract beauty”, where subconsciousness blends into reality and “everything then becomes skewed and questionable”. During this time, she was also dealing with a period of depression and she relates the show’s distortion of reality to her feelings while dealing with her depression. The influence of all these components can certainly be heard throughout the album. Constant musical distortion, jarring guitar chords and high, quavering vocals all weave together to translate the Lynch-style oddity of mental illness.

The instrumental arrangement on this album resurrects ghosts of past composers and hints at classic jazz genres without becoming a jazz album. Far from it. Though it may borrow jazz chords and vocal stylings occasionally, these elements are translated and distorted to modern electronic dreamy indie-art. Renata’s vocal stylings flicker between Joanna Newsom and Bjork in light quirkiness, to Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald in soft, jazz-like musings. The lyrics are abstract and artistic to match the unusual musicality. The careful and purposeful pairing of odd and often chilling musical stylings with poetic lyrics work in harmony and crafts deeply interesting songs.

The album opens with Wayside, which has chilled, low-fi 70s style guitar ambiance that offers a delusional edge before cascading into a pulled back, almost grunge style chorus. Renata’s voice lifts to a haunting falsetto screech that mirrors the distant sounding, psychedelic guitar riffs. All these elements create an unsettling old-timey atmosphere, like the musical equivalent of black and white camp-classic horror films with poorly designed cardboard cut-out costumes of mystical beasts from the deep.

A running theme lyrically is fear and confusion, with Below being the most evident example of this. The lyrics tell of sinking, possibly into an anxiety attack or a deep depressive state. The continued floating style of instrumentals and dreamy, quaveringly high vocals help form a dissociating feeling for the listener. “I can’t breathe, doubling the hydrogen, sky above, or floor below” describes the feeling of plunging deeper into an episode. The circling receptiveness of lyrics also portray the inner thoughts during an episode – a feeling of being trapped within a seemingly vast and suffocating experience with an occasional floating hope that you’ll “be surfacing, surfacing in no time”.

Even seemingly lighter topics of love can’t escape the existential experience of over-analysing and dread. After All is about dating and goes from describing the need to post online about your relationship for social validation, to the nagging paranoia and negativity that signal an uneasy relationship status. The guitar occasionally wavers off in distortion at the end of lines to mimic the unstable thoughts plaguing the relationship. Before the line “part of me is disappearing, losing some control” the instrumentals collapse into a distorted mass, with one lone falsetto guitar screaming through the fog of sound, which is the perfect musical description for confusion and constant paranoia.

A similar theme, Dreambone is about love also, but more about the abstract hope that we will all one day experience it. In this song, Renata has delicate wafting vocals that lift and fall like a calm tranquil feather in the wind. The song describes the desire to find a partner and no longer be alone – “hunting for the bone, make-believing home”. There’s an element of delusional desperation in the lyrics as they describe the hunt – “now they’re running fast … sifting through the mud … They won’t die out, too hungry and insane.” And the inevitable hopelessness of the search is repeated throughout “they’ll learn to live alone”.

One standout from the album is Follow Me Down, which again is about love, but this time the desire for a potential partner to follow her down into the madness and obsession of it. It starts slow and relaxing with dreamy instrumentals that create a lazy Sunday afternoon feel. Occasionally the melodic construction is reminiscent of easy-jazz in 20s bars. Renata’s voice during the song is lovely and keeps her hint of vocal quirkiness.

The album ends with Gravity (Old Ghost). This last song is about never being able to fully escape fear: “A cloud is hovering, standing permanently still old ghost that I can’t kill”. Renata sings through the constant nagging anxiety that she’ll never be fully free from whatever plagues her mind, that she’s “never gonna lose (the) old voice repeating all the things I can’t undo”. The imagery she invokes while describing this feeling is perfectly creepy, creating a sense of being stalked by a “man on the ceiling” and “a phantom limb” brushing against her that’ll soon wrap around her neck “choke, choking in the night”. Renata’s vocals match the lyrics with serene haunting beauty and the classic, 20s style key choices in chords creates a nostalgic feeling that captures the essence of an old ghost. Musically, vocally and lyrically, it is a stand-out and a perfect way to close this melancholic and poignant album.

This relatively short album with only nine songs is very strong but not without some criticism. All songs on the album try to overt basic structure, however inevitably repeat their created structure throughout the album. As interesting as a more free-form construction is, it does, however, cause listeners difficulty in remembering songs and the continuation of this structure through the album can cause difficulty differentiating each song from one another, especially as they all seem to be written in a similar key using the same hazy techniques on guitar.

The creepy distortion of reality present in this album is fascinating and rather wonderful. Though some listeners may be put off by a seemingly unapproachable style, key and lyrical theme, when able to fully immerse yourself and appreciate all the musical components, this album truly is a treat.

Cortnë wander into wonderland with new track ‘Not Alice’


By Michaela Barton (@MichaelaBarton_)

Cortnë are a fresh-faced Glasgow based band that formed just one year ago. Their new single, Not Alice, displays qualities similar to artists like La Sera, Gabriella Aplin or Vivian Girls, especially in the vocals.

The title – Not Alice – bluntly eludes to Alice in Wonderland, and the lyrics continue this theme. The track is about feeling lost and wishing to return to “a place where I understand”. The lyrics also seem to suggest a longing to reunite with a certain person – “all I want is for you to want me” – with their memory having never quite faded – “when you’re not there, I see shadows in your place”. The inspiring tale of Alice in Wonderland is referred to continuously throughout the lyrics, with the bridge describing a feeling of “falling, falling, falling, going out of my mind”, which is a direct link to Alice falling down the rabbit hole and entering the madness of Wonderland.

The instrumentals are relaxed indie in mood. The two different styles of electric guitars mix well together, with the lingering chords of one drifting on top of the others basic strum creating a tranquil, dreamy feeling. All in all, however, there’s nothing ground-breaking about the music – it’s your standard laid-back indie tune. It’s perfectly nice to listen to but probably not something that would instantly grab a listener’s attention if flicking through Spotify.

The band lists Florence and the Machine and Haim as some of their inspirations but so far, the technicality of the instrumentals doesn’t quite reach the standard or creativity of these artists. Having said that, Not Alice is an early track release from a very new band and it’s rare for an artist’s sound to be fully realised and developed so early on.

If you’re searching for some inoffensive, easy listening then Cortnë are worth checking out. Hopefully, their style will blossom with time.

Cortnë are set to play Broadcast and The Old Hairdressers on February 16th and March 4th respectively.

Album Review: Lemon Boy by Cavetown

by michaela barton (@lowkeypigeon)                    rating 7                                     

Imagine an indie-film directed by Zach Braff about a quirky awkward young man trying to find his manic pixie dream girl. Lemon Boy by Cavetown is that film’s soundtrack.

Lemon Boy is written, performed and mixed by Robin Skinner, with a few accompanying musicians on certain tracks. Robin’s voice styling is similar to High Highs or Radical Face, and the album’s musicality reminiscent of early Owl City, Stornoway or Bon Iver. When describing his sound on the website, Robin says “I have no clue what my genre should be considered as, and I’d love to never find out.” In general, Cavetown’s sound is sweet. Calming, easy Sunday evening listening exploring topics of unrequited love, shyness, anxiety, wanting to be cool, existential dread with your cereal, and a dead lizard…. I think?

The title track Lemon Boy has the recognisable “quirky sound” that continues throughout the album, using interesting chords that avoid the usual easy cliché progressions that musicians often adopt, especially in their early days. The use of electronic distortion paired with acoustic instruments adds extra flavours that prevent blandness or vanilla stylings that many pop-folk musicians serve. The growing distortion also supports the story behind the lyrics. Lemon Boy is about anxieties and negativity seeping into life before eventually becoming an old reliable friend. “Lemon Boy and me started to get along together / I helped him plant his seeds and we’d mow the lawn in bad weather / It’s actually pretty easy being nice to a bitter boy like him / So I got myself a citrus friend” describes how easy it is to surrender to this way of negative thinking and how doing so only helps it grow and spread until fully formed in the mind, almost like a whole separate being you just can’t seem to shake.

Green is a beautifully intimate and affectionate song. It’s a love letter for a past love, except without the possessiveness that so many songs that tackle this topic exude. The song isn’t about saying “we belong together, your decision to leave was wrong and you must come back this instant” it’s about saying, “you are amazing, I hope you love yourself and you deserve to be happy”. The song admits that when they were together, he did not treat her right, he was “too young to understand” and he “never stopped feeling guilty”. This song isn’t a plea to come back, it’s just an apology. The chorus tells that she has moved on – “you look so good with him” – but he’s not snide about it, he just says “I’m proud of you still”. There’s no bitterness or resentment and it’s wholly refreshing. The delicate overlay of Robin’s voice accompanied by soft guitar and ukulele picking with distant piano in the background creates a lovely blanket of intimate sound, which compliments the lyrical story so well.

Some issues with the album are that a lot of songs seem to have been written a while ago (i.e. in that dreaded angsty teenage stage) so lyrics can often seem a little naïve, focussing on young unrequited love like in songs It’s U and Fool. This means the album can sometimes feel like you’re listening to a reading of a teenage boy’s diary entry, and really who the hell wants to do that. However, if you’re able to ignore the occasional “oh woe be me and my bleeding heart” element, there are more tracks that stand out than not.

Cavetown’s strength and maturity shine through in songs like Poison which, like Lemon Boy, also explores anxiety in a very real and personal way, describing the irrational thoughts that race through the mind. It’s short, but the intimacy is brilliant. I’ll Make Cereal is another that explores anxiety and existential thoughts while also pairing with the humdrum image of having breakfast in the morning, which serves as a great juxtaposition between the chaos of the mind and the normal, mundane cycles of life.

Being fairly young at 19 years old, and already having mastered enough talent to independently produce a professional sounding album is certainly impressive and shouldn’t be underestimated. Instrumentals such as those in 10 Feet Tall are lovely, displaying strong composing skills. The maturity of sound mixing combats the slight immaturity of some lyrics and it’s this which shows promise for Cavetown. Topics of storytelling will hopefully evolve past the young hopeless romantic stage and then Robin’s shrewd eye for intimate detail, engaging images, and lyrical construction will hopefully shine through.

Robin Skinner says on his website that he “wants to make music forever”, and with the talent demonstrated so far, that could certainly be a pleasant possibility.

EP Review: In Forever by Black Tiles

By Michaela Barton (@lowkeypigeon)rating 5

Aberdeen may not be well-known for producing dozens of successful musical artists (Annie Lennox is the only recognisable name after a quick Google search). However, that hasn’t discouraged new indie, 80’s rock inspired band Black Tiles from releasing their first EP: In Forever.

The band list artists like Joy Division and Cocteau Twins as influences, which can occasionally be heard through distorted guitar styles although there’s an undercurrent of garage rock present, also. In addition to this, their influence from Wolf Alice is evident from lead singer Tilly O’Connor’s vocals. 

Throughout the EP, O’Connor’s soft, ethereal voice wafts through hazy guitar licks, adopting an edge when needing to compete against mounting guitar riffs. Unfortunately, her voice is often lost behind the dominant instrumentals, which is a shame as her vocals are engaging and give an intimate-sounding character to tracks.

The track Frequencies enchants the listener upon first note, with steely crisp and intricate guitar, which soon retreats into a wall of sound with lively drums and an animated bassline. The track is about being haunted by songs, unable to avoid being reminded of a love interest in every melody on the radio. “Feels like every song is about you, and I guess this one will be too, who knew?” is sung with a self-aware, wry laugh. The conversational and often realistically blunt lyrics are a strong element and will likely let Black Tiles stand out from bands with wishy-washy lyrics written by emo sad boys who don’t realise their self-indulgent love songs are the musical equivalent of a crusty sock.

An occasional layered effect with vocals offers a haunting, yearning beauty that matches the lyrical content in Frequencies; however, this plus is soon buried under the instrumentals again. Some rhythmic and production moments on this track seem to collapse, giving a live performance feel rather than the tightly structured and balanced volume standard most recordings go for. Although this does give a more raw sound which can be enjoyable, it can also be reminiscent of high school bands getting carried away at a battle of the bands’ type performance.

In Forever is a lively track that builds energy from the introductory bass countdown to the burst of clattering symbols and roaring guitar. “Our dreams are not the same, but I’d like to waste my time with you every day, forever.” This song will certainly be one that plays well live seeing that it’s impossible to listen without rhythmically moving some part of yourself along to the beat. The melody adopts this carefree, reckless attitude, projecting a fun “fuck it” feel.

The sound is fresh-faced and young but not simple or naïve. Although some songs can easily be the soundtrack for any generic teen in revolt, musically there is maturity with themes interesting enough to engage listeners who grew out of their rebel-without-a-cause stage. Black Tiles show promise to develop into a strong band and are certainly one that people should keep an eye on.

Album Review: Devotion by Pale Honey

By Michaela Barton (@lowkeypigeon)

rating 9Minimalistic rock guitar-drum duo Pale Honey lay bare their innermost reflections in their new broodingly introspective album Devotion. Comprised of Tuva Lodmark (guitar/vocals/songwriter) and Nelly Daltrey (drums/principal songwriter), these friends from Sweden have formed an intense and hypnotic sound. Their newest release accounts obsession, depression, anxiety and fractured relationships – stark, harrowing and brilliant, the album guides the listener into the deepest and most tumultuous depths of the psyche. A mix of striped back alternative indie with elements of garage rock, Tuva and Nelly construct an album with scarcely any misses.

The opening track Replace Me tells of a failing relationship the protagonist feels trapped in as she wonders “Why won’t you just leave me?”. Layered unsettling guitar riffs emulate the uneasiness the relationship has fallen to. The main guitar riff stalks the light vocals creating an urgent chasing feel, like the imminent self-implosion of the relationship is getting closure and closure, an implosion that Someone’s Desire accounts the aftermath of. “Learn to leave it, let it go. This was over long ago.” Heavy and menacing, Someone’s Desire is the rejection of a past love’s obsession. With brutal lines like “I never told you why I left you. I lean in and whisper I don’t need to” followed by deep, intense riffs, there’s an undercurrent of hate as the protagonist insists “don’t lay your love here, I don’t want it.” Any past affection that may have existed has been replaced – toxic obsession causing hostile disdain.

After the intense opening, Get these Things Out of my Head bursts through as an energetic and catchy single, but despite the spirited melodies the lyrics stay true to the starkly confessional nature of the rest of the album. Depicting the struggles of living with mental illness and trying to come to terms with the never-ending confusion and strain: “All this time and still I’m not sane. All this talk and yet it hasn’t changed”, “Turned me inside out still I can’t”. Lyrics pour out of Tuva as she pleads for release from the storm in her mind, but the plummeting riffs of the bridge demonstrate her failure as she falls further into the rabbit hole.

Other livelier tracks of the album include garage rock anthem Golden and single Real Thing. Sexual obsession and a stream of innuendos make Real Thing a perkier track for the album. Excitable tin drum beats help lighten the mood while also producing a raw sound. “Pull your gun/ and knock me over” – the metaphor of a gun helps demonstrate the perils of this passionate obsession and the risks it could bring (which will be explored in later tracks), yet still the song leads off with a suggestive plea of “You should come over/ and roll me over”.

The deliberation and instrumental prowess is evident in this album, every note and inflection seems purposeful to emulate the haunting passion of the lyrics. The Heaviest of Storms is a bleak, poignant song suggesting an isolation that comes with deep introspection late at night while suffocated with depression. The storm builds to a pulsing, thunderous climax enveloping Tuva’s voice and burrowing into the listener.

As a complete contrast to The Heaviest Storm, 777 (Devotion, Pt. 2) is a truly beautiful song, with calm vocals, delicate melodies and use of harp to bring the song to a tranquil level that perfectly matches intimate lyrics. Keeping with the general theme of the album however, as affectionate as these lyrics seem, there is a touch of obsession. “I will end my heart to get that close to you … please tell me what to do. Don’t fall over to the other side, out of reach I need you in my sight.” Including the harp over these lyrics may suggest delusion as the protagonist clings so tightly to her love, she’s willing to give her life to stay at their side despite them drifting away. Sweep seems to tell the aftermath of this song. Gentle and moving but with an undercurrent of torment, Sweep describes the feeling of loneliness when love leaves but obsession continues: “You belong to them and I belong to no one. Always stuck behind, I’m stuck inside my mind. You are what I loved and all what I’ve lost.” Synths build, accompanied with drums to an overpowering climax that suffocates the guitar riff.

Why Do I Always Feel this Way is the closing track of the album and a personal favourite. A desperate introspection of a failed relationship with haunting repetitive vocals demonstrating the continuing obsession to answer why. “Was it all for her? I wished it for me. Will I never learn why you’re not for me?” shows a self-awareness of the hopeless fixation yet reveals an impossible feat in moving on. Singer Tuva has spoken of her OCD in past interviews and this song especially, along with others on the album, reveals what dating is like when living with an obsessive mind. Feeling trapped in a continuing loop of doubt, love, self-hatred and hope, never quite able to move past old feelings as they cycle constantly through the mind. Tuva’s voice drifting off as she continually repeats the same questions in an apparent loop is a saddening yet beautiful insight to the obsessive mind.

The album is a haunting masterpiece – brutally self-aware, raw and menacing but wholly human. Devotion’s strength is not only in melodies, lyrics, production or voice, but everything. It’s clear that every element of this album was meticulously thought out and crafted to perfection.