Jim Ghedi

Satori
Self Released

Jim Ghedi’s debut solo album Satori is without doubt one of the most unconventional records you’ll hear this year - intelligent yet untamed, open-ended yet controlled. It’s a mass of pure creativity, sometimes confusing but in the end beautiful, affirming and uplifting. At times you’ll hear shades of Beefheart, Zappa and maybe Colin Stetson. The many world music influences channel African rhythms and Middle Eastern harmony. Avant garde jazz pervades and the late John Tavener is never far away. But with such a patchwork smorgasbord of influences, Ghedi has created a sound belonging solely to him.

The album is a mix of extended song and spoken word compositions and some sound collage accompanied by Ghedi’s finger-picked guitar and a large ensemble of some leading Sheffield musicians, including members of Blood Sport, Oxo Foxo, Screaming Maldini, The Purgatory Players and this not-entirely-humble reviewer. There are over 20 instruments recorded, including zither, sitar and harp alongside strings, woodwind and brass. The resulting sound is full and lush, richly orchestrated but based on improvisation and allowing chance moments to happen. Combined with Ghedi’s flexible and unstructured songwriting style, this approach to recording could have led to a chaotic sounding album, but it always sits the right side of the knife edge, full of verve and excitement, but never going too far.

The album launch event on 5 April at Bank Street Arts will see music played in a similar way. A seven-piece band will play a new piece from semi-structured improvisations based on songs from the album, while live artists create work based on what they hear. This unique, one-off performance typifies Ghedi’s ultra-creative style. A gem in Sheffield’s burgeoning experimental scene.

Ben Eckersley

Tropic of Youth

Sun City
Plastic Fish Records

Ever since Tom first appeared under the moniker of General Wolf, it’s been obvious that he’s an exceedingly talented singer and musician. As a band, Tropic of Youth always possessed an abundance of ability, but at some stage during 2013 they evolved from being talented young bucks to sounding like the real deal. With the release of their new EP Sun City, they seem destined to be propelled onto the national stage.

Sun City opens with ‘Poa Kichizi Kama Ndizi’ (that’s ‘Crazy Cool Like a Banana’ to the non-Swahili speakers out there), which threatens to go all ‘Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa’, before veering off in a completely different direction. Throughout these five impeccably crafted songs there is a niggling sense of familiarity. But whilst at times bearing a resemblance to several bands, their music retains a strong sense of identity and originality.

Fusing tropical beats with African rhythms, they create a kaleidoscope of vibrant sounds, never more so than on the “banana one” and in the opening of ‘We Can’. They label themselves as ‘soft rock world beat’, and whilst most likely meant in pure jest, ‘Hot Season’ does have that classic feel. ‘Post Youth’, the finale to this musical menagerie, is absolutely stunning and should be bothering a radio near you in the near future.

There’s a deftness of touch to the production on Sun City, and a density, depth and cohesion to the music which elevates it above bands of a similar ilk. You’ll easily be caught by their hooks, but repeated listens unlock further mysteries. With the release of Sun City, Tropic of Youth have finally made the transition from a band with bags of potential to one of the best bands currently active in Sheffield.

Rob Aldam

A Winged Victory For The Sullen

ATOMOS VII
Erased Tapes

A Winged Victory for the Sullen, a merging of the minds of Stars of the Lid’s Adam Wiltzie and renowned composer Dustin O’Halloran, have been making quiet waves in the ambient scene for a few years now. With lush soundscapes and powerful dynamism, AWVFTS recently scored a contemporary dance piece. ‘ATOMOS VII’ is a teaser to the full soundtrack, ATOMOS, coming in the near future.

What this EP may lack in quantity - its two remaining songs being a cut track from their previous work and a reinterpretation by sonic monster Ben Frost - it makes up for in the quality of each piece. ‘ATOMOS VII’ is a slow moving lesson in the dynamics of noise. At times it seems like an orchestra breathing. Resonant strings hum, sing and shimmer with an effortless beauty. This is neo-classical at its peak - not showy with excessive noise, but simple and beautiful.

‘Minuet for a Cheap Piano Number One’ shows us how captivating a single instrument can be. Sounding like the soundtrack to some gorgeous winter sunrise, AWVFTS demonstrate their uncanny ability to produce beauty and intimacy from almost anything. It’s a sheer delight to listen to. The final track brings in Ben Frost to add his drone-heavy touch to the title track. Whilst featuring rougher tones and stuttering loops, it still manages to capture the gentle splendour the duo create.

If you’re a fan of anything ambient, or if you just want something to relax to on a spring day, this EP is a gorgeous example of mellow music making everything in life just that little bit more beautiful. Bring on the full album.

Alex Adams

Teebs

Estara
Brainfeeder

It’s been four years since they released Teebs’ debut album Ardour and it would feel reasonable - although a little disappointing - to say that Brainfeeder’s status as one of the most compelling labels in electronic music has waned.

It may be that their admirable loyalty to their existing stable has led to a slight stagnation in fresh creative direction. A browse through their catalogue from the past couple of years throws up a fair amount of Lapalux and Thundercat, but not a whole lot else, save for a handful of releases from the likes of similar stalwarts Jeremiah Jae, Ras G and The Gaslamp Killer. Perhaps it’s also the case that, whereas circa 2010 their seat at the head of the abstract hip hop table was more or less unchallenged, in recent years the cloudy, more rap-ready beats fashioned by Clams Casino, Squadda B and Raider Klan have shifted listeners’ preferences. With the recent emergence of his rap alias Captain Murphy, it seems Brainfeeder label head Flying Lotus himself acknowledges the current vogue for the return of the MC.

Teebs’ work, however, has never been the most compatible with the human voice, and on his second full-length release - 2011’s stellar Collections was, it seems, more of a stop gap EP - he declines to reinvent his own wheel. This may be why, ultimately, out of his three more substantial bodies of work, Estara seems the least compelling. There’s no denying the enthralling textural production skills that Teebs consistently exhibits and he remains one of the few electronic musicians who can conjure up such vividly organic visions in the listener’s mind. What’s lacking on Estara is the same sense of wide-eyed adventure that lit up Ardour and Collections. There’s a lingering sense that for Teebs - along with, perhaps, the wider Brainfeeder family - the most illuminated days are behind us.

Jack Scourfield

Paul Littlewood

Scattered by Birds
Three Sixty Records

Scattered By Birds is the fourth release from local folk rock solo artist Paul Littlewood. Known across South Yorkshire for his raw, no-frills approach to recording, Littlewood’s sound balances strength and fragility in good ratios. After the excellent reaction to his last EP Butterfly House back in June 2012, it’s great to see that he has managed to maintain the same quality of sound whilst developing as a recording artist.

Listening to the album in a quiet room through a pair of headphones, it didn’t take long for the delicacies of the EP to bleed in. Although the compositions are quite simple, Littlewood toys with various instrumental effects, building subtle layers over one another without taking away from the crystal clear vocals. ‘Old Fox’ is a perfect example of this, never leading to a grand crescendo, but instead focusing on the clarity of each lyric with a wash of haunting strings drifting beneath. The absence of a drum kit adds to the fluid, enchanted feel of the song. It’s not until track two, verse two that the beat kicks in and we see a more pop-rock side to the lo-fi aficionado. This time we hear more delicacy in Littlewood’s voice, still managing to keep serenity and power in balance.

One of my favourite things about this record is the fact that each track has its own personality, whilst managing to complement the others as a collective. From new-traditional folk to slow and penetrative bluesy rock, there is a lot on offer in such a small group of tracks. Nothing showy, nothing that’ll make you jump to your feet, but make no mistake - this is certainly one that will stay with you.

Tasha Franek

Stef Esposito

Walking Colouring Book
Self released

Here we have a true Sheffield workhorse. Stef Esposito has been relentlessly working the music scene in South Yorkshire for over ten years. His playing has always blown away the kids in any audience and earned the respect of the more seasoned local music fans. With an organic flare for the smooth yet undoubtedly raw, his music takes in rock and roll, blues and little bits of everything else with a guitar, a strut in his step and a sense of humour that keeps people engaged. His new album, Walking Colouring Book, covers a rich and diverse range of feelings and subject material that are all framed nicely in expertly played, quality rock and roll.

The first riff of the album bounces us back into days past, remembering looking up at those we aspired to be like via a fitting lyric about remembering a hero and a rhythm which inspires us to be grateful and joyous. We are told a story of respect, humility and reaching for someone to look to when we need them most.

Song after song plays out with dynamic energy and foot-tapping infectiousness. Every time one ends, something a little different comes in to replace it. Stef’s voice carries each song with a gutsy and empowered confidence and his range shows his true ability as a creator of sound. Some masterful mixing and tweaks have grasped that perfect edge for his vocal style.

As an album dedicated to the memory of his late father, and as a culmination of his years of experience as a musician, this is truly a great record.

Rowan Blair Colver