The Unsigned Guide Spotlight: September

Blog by Stef Loukes under Artist Managers, Creative & Branding, Finance, Law & Music Business, Live, Media, Music Publishing, Music Training & Careers, Record Labels, Recording & Production, Selling & Distributing Your Music

CHERYM - ‘Weird Ones’

Winning NI Music Awards Oh Yeah Contender in 2019 topped off a huge year for pop-rock triad, CHERYM. The gong came after an impressive string of festival dates at Electric Picnic, K-Fest and KnockanStockan - a series of events that is still sinking in:

"It was honestly such a surprise and an honour to be able to walk onto that stage in the Ulster Hall and accept [the Contender Award]. Electric Picnic was a huge highlight as well... We were added onto the bill at the last minute and played the same day as Billie Eilish, so that was a wee bit mad and totally surreal."

'Weird Ones' is CHERYM's latest slice of pop-rock pie, and is a rallying call to outsiders and misfits everywhere:

"It's basically a f**k you song to all the bullies and toxic people in your life that you need to get rid of. All of us have been affected by bullies in the past and this was our way of venting!"

Hannah Richardson's voice seems as though it was designed for her to front a pop-punk band - pitch perfect but brimming with attitude - and she's on fine form here. Bassist Nyree Porter and drummer Alannagh Doherty don't miss a beat, as well as chipping in on backing vocals to complete the anthemic vibes.

The band have been working on plenty of new music for us weirdos to dance to, and are itching to get out on a UK tour. Expect announcements very soon.

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Pyramid Park - ‘Never Let Me Down’

The loss of this year's festival season has given the brains behind Pyramid Park, Pete McAllen, time to reflect on a rollercoaster few years. 31 festival slots across the UK and Europe in 2018 and 2019 has gained him admirers from across the continent and beyond, along with a bucketload of unique experiences:

"There was one that was particularly special in Slovakia where I played a song completely acoustically in a circle, with the crowd gathered around. Hearing them sing back a song I’d written in my bedroom, in a country I had never been to before was pretty unbelievable."

It was this sort of moment that led him to the valid conclusion that it was about time to quit the day job. A few months after taking this leap of faith, Pete sustained nasty injuries to his hand, face and teeth in a cycling accident. It couldn't have come at a worse time for him personally, and made the cancellation of several shows unavoidable. 'Never Let Me Down' was written with this setback was still lodged firmly in the front of his mind:

"I met with a songwriting friend a few weeks after, chatted about life and music. We ended up writing 'Never Let Me Down' that day with the opening line, 'I think drifting between the head and the heart' summarising how I was feeling at the time."

The track is synth-heavy, indie-pop that hits you right between the eyes. From the second the Phil Collins(ish) drum fill kicks the song into action, ‘Never Let Me Down’ is a party bag of pop goodies. Stops, drops, hooks and all.

You can listen to Pyramid Park's 2nd album, 'Not An Island', in full at all the usual places. It was only released in April but there could be a follow up EP before the year is out. On top of all this, Pete's running live streams on his Twitch channel twice a week and is also in the process of writing his first book... Who said musicians are lazy?

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Twin Stranger - ‘Crushed’

Twin Stranger has evolved from its initial form as Alex McConnachie's bedroom recording project into a full 5-piece power-pop powerhouse. Their influences span time and space; from the 70s power-pop of Big Star, through the 80s noise rock of Sonic Youth, to the leftfield indie and pop of the 90s in the shape of Stereolab, Pavement and Yo La Tengo.

It is no surprise then that their early singles have wide sonic appeal - sounding equally at home on US radio stations KROQ Radio and SiriusXM as when they've found their way onto the UK airwaves via BBC Music Introducing. Having formed at the start of 2020, their growth this year has been stunted a little for obvious reasons, but unperturbed, they're quickly amassing a collection of pop nuggets.

'Crushed' may be short but packs plenty into its 2:20 runtime. It plays out like a train of thought with its interchanging melodies and stream of consciousness lyrics; you get the impression that Twin Stranger has the ability to take the song in any of several directions. In the end, they tie things together neatly by bookending the track with its infectious made-for-radio choruses.

It was one of the first songs that was written for the project, and is a good demonstration of how McConnachie works in fragments, favouring concepts to fully-formed narratives:

"Crushed is about realising that some people you know just love listening to the sound of their own voice... Other people’s troubles and feelings only really enter their mind for a split second... On a more positive note it’s also about summer time. When you’re a teenager, the days blend into one and you’re just hanging out with your friends without a care in the world, just living in the moment."

If you're into Crushed, Twin Stranger's latest single 'White' has just hit the interwebs too, with plenty more material in the bag awaiting release.

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Matthew Barton - ‘Judy Garland’

After a productive period of forced isolation, Matthew Barton is all geared up for the release of his new EP, Queen of England. Written and recorded in between sporadic bouts of procrastination during lockdown, the EP is a crystallization of Matthew's love of melody and lo-fi simplicity.

Like all of the tracks on Queen of England, 'Judy Garland' was recorded using an old four-track recorder - one of various creative decisions that capture the fun, spontaneity of the Brill Building pop that informs Matthew's writings. The metallic twang of the guitars and the click-clack percussion is straight from the Buddy Holly playbook, with added woah-ohs to fit the aesthetic.

Recreating a 60s sound is always heavily reliant on a strong vocal melody, and here, Matthew's double-tracked voice skillfully completes the vignette. Meanwhile, his dream-like lyrics add another layer of intrigue to proceedings: 'The mouldy kitchen wall is my Carnegie Hall / Give me dusty paper roses.' (Disclaimer: Matthew has assured us that he doesn't actually have a mould problem in his kitchen.)

'Judy Garland' is out now, and the release of the rest of 'Queen of England' is nearly upon us, with BBC Music Introducing showing their support for the EP in recent weeks. Matthew is also working on the music for a new film by Arron Blake and Darius Shu. If that doesn't sound interesting enough, he wants to make an album made entirely on a harmonium. Totally here for that.

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Mutant-Thoughts - ‘Breaking Views’

Mutant-Thoughts' cerebral rock floats somewhere in between the murky waters of British progressive rock and sweeping 80’s synth-scapes, dipping its toes in classic Latin American Guaguancó rhythms along the way. They wear their sonic experimentation with pride - none more so than on their latest release, 'Breaking Views'.

'Breaking Views' celebrates cultural diversity with a patchwork of musical places and eras at its heart.

“The message of the song is to celebrate cultural diversity in these times when we seem to be repeating trends and mistakes from almost exactly a century ago.”

Alongside the superb Latin American rhythm section there are textures of mid-90s post-rock in the elastic vocals and fretless bass (think Mogwai and Radiohead), before sci-fi synths sweep in from the leftfield to transport you somewhere else entirely. The transitions are deliberately jarring:

“We combined juxtaposed concepts like some old school 80's synth pop arpeggiator sound and modern rock elements, which represent European cultures; creating a contrast with the intimate and subtle Latin influenced middle-eight.”

Listening to Mutant-Thoughts is a bit like life on a micro scale. Just when you think you’re beginning to understand what's going on, something new and unexpected is thrown your way. And, also a bit like life, you're probably best served by trying not to figure out where it's going and instead just enjoying the ride.

After the initial disappointment of ArcTanGent 2020’s cancellation, Mutant-Thoughts were honoured to perform at the online event last month and are already on the bill for next year’s event. They’re promising bags of action on the horizon as we approach 2021.

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