Stranger is available at:
Rock; Electronica; Pop
Kull Lejla– 9.3
Stranger; Fumes; 103
LOOMING close to my….
500th post- the next one out of the blocks- it gives me the opportunity to meet with a hungry new girl group- one of the most diverse and exciting I have heard for a while. It seems like that musical commodity is a rare one indeed: There are girl bands yet few that really leave impressions in the mind. Before I get to my featured act I wanted to talk about music coming out of Malta; the girl group sector in music- in addition to the importance music will have this year. Having reviewed for a while now I have been lucky enough to assess musicians from all around the world- across four continents and many different cities- and Malta is one of those places that pops up now and then. With everyone from Chess and Aphty Khea- two Maltese artists based in the U.K. – there are some great musicians coming from Malta. To my ears there is a leaning (among Maltese artists) for a Pop-based sound with Electronica/Rock edges: Whether that is the favoured sound of Malta I am not sure. What you get from the artists is something vibrant and fresh; music that elicits energy and the desire to move- it also makes you think and dig deep. Although few Maltese musicians have made their way to the mainstream here the nation has some local heroes for sure: Everyone from Gabriela N. and Kevin Borg have captured the public’s attentions. For my money there are many more Maltese artists that have the potential to be big names. I have mentioned the likes of Chess- Beatbox artist Dana McKeon is another great example- but there seems to be quite a few innovative young artists coming from Malta. In previous reviews I have been keen to get my mind away from the U.K. and U.S.: I spend too much time with familiar places and sounds; tend not to let my mind wander across the waters. Having recently reviewed artists from Sweden and Germany I am really excited to see what else is out there. Too much attention is paid to American and British music- it makes up the majority of mainstream tastes- yet so much more can be discovered when you expand your horizons and go looking for something further afield. If you are looking for great Electronic-Pop and upbeat Pop then Sweden has plenty on offer. There are some great Hard-Rock bands coming out of France right now- Australia and New Zealand are also fertile when it comes to those genre. Canada is one of the most diverse musical nations whereas Asia is a continent really showing range and originality: Artists have that spark and certain something lacking elsewhere. My point is we should be more adventurous and ambitious with our music tastes. Malta is a nation that is up-and-coming and exciting: It will be great to see what new artists emerge here as we go through 2016. At the moment Cryptic Street are a band that are getting tongues wagging and laying out a very distinct and arresting sound. Before I continue on, let me introduce them to you:
Leona Farrugia – vocalist
Janelle Borg – guitarist
Julia Hickey – Drummer
Denise Gilford – Keyboardist
“According to Toni Sant, Cryptic Street is’A new all-girl pop rock group on the local music scene will certainly go a long way to diffusing the testosterone saturated environment.’
Cryptic Street is a band, made up of five friends (Leona Farrugia – vocalist, Janelle Borg – guitarist, Julia Hickey – Drummer, Denise Gilford – Keyboardist & Cheyenne Belle Xuereb – Bassist) who simply love experimenting with different instruments and listening to all genres of music. One probably wouldn’t be able to pin a specific genre to their sound since it is incorporates modern rock elements, with a splash of electronica and experimental, alternative rock. The band is made up of a myriad of personalities of which compliment together to create music. Indecisive, the band’s debut single, produced by Peter Borg, is therefore the vibrant result of such a blend of genres and qualities. The song and accompanying video were very well received, and in fact, the video was chosen to be shown on the official website of the famous British band Coldplay, a band that in itself has been highly inspirational to Cryptic Street’s sound at the start. With psychedelic sounding guitars, strong-driven bass, 80’s disco beat, emotional vocals and a keyboard line that makes one nostalgic of the synthpop age, there is an artistic diversity that ignites the song and makes it enjoyable for die-hard psychedelic rock fans and pop fans alike. With this single, Cryptic Street performed at the Bay Music Awards 2012, and won the Best Newcomer Award. They also landed a nomination at the Malta Music Awards. The single also entered the Official Maltese PRS Music Charts, and secured the number one spot for two consecutive weeks of the Bay Radio Charts.
The band’s second single, Retrospect (2013), also produced by Peter Borg, was the result of a myriad of different influences that have impacted the band during that year. Influenced by Orwellian literature, Lana del Rey and Jim Morrison’s poetic lyrics and most of all, different life experiences, it is a positive departure from the first single, ‘Indecisive.’ Retrospect’s neo-80s vibe, which initiated in ‘Indecisive’ and is steadily maturing, along with the eclectic diverse genres incorporated in the song, is targeted towards different listeners.
After the departure of the original bassist, and influenced by the hottest bands on the international scene that favour simple yet experimental beats as well as by the melodic playing of the new bassist, Cheyenne Belle Xuereb, the band decided to depart from mainstream sounds and experiment with a more underground sound. This also led to some self-production which helped the band mature in their sound and also opt for a more hands on recording approach”.
The girl band market is one of those sectors that get a bad reputation: We have those ideas of sugary Pop acts and committee-written songs. Whilst there are a lot of acts that still continue like this- with no discernible talent; all looks and no ability- there are plenty of girl groups that have plenty of potential, passion and quality. Cryptic Street are not your average Pop act anyway: They mix Rock and Electronic sounds to create something special. With their E.P. Stranger released last year, the girls are going to be planning new attack during the year. I have been fascinated by the all-girl groups that are emerging on the scene right now. Having assessed Dolores Haze recently- a Swedish Noise-Rock band- it is great to see so much drive and power emerging. Even a lot of the Pop girl groups I have loved are far edgier and nuanced than you’d imagine. There is so much intention and ambitious arising, you should all take notice. Too many eyes and minds stick with male bands and solo artists: The girl groups coming out are among the most exhilarating and stunning musicians currently playing. Having seen a couple of music legends pass recently- in addition to actor Alan Rickman- there is a lot of shock and upset around the world. In a month that has seen a lot of tragedy and unexpected loss- that has resonated with so many different people- we are looking for something comforting and escapist right now. With sledgehammer blows being levied so early in 2016; it is my hope musicians will rise to the challenge and step up. Last year was a great year for new music but I found there were a comparatively small number of acts that lingered in the memory. I think a lot of musicians are still trying too hard to be someone else- copycatting other acts and not showing originality- and it is those inventive and unique acts that will always stand the test of time. As this year has just kicked into action it may be folly to cast judgement already. From what I have seen- and the types of acts emerging so far- it looks as though 2016 will be much healthier and more productive. Cryptic Street have plenty of acclaim and respect in their native Malta. I think the girls will be translating to the U.K. heavily in the next few months. Their social media numbers are growing and their reputation is building momentum. One of the most interesting and compelling groups coming through, I am excited to see where they go from here.
The girls have been playing together for a few years now yet their E.P. Stranger is their first fully-formed original creation. The girls unleashed the 2012 single Indecisive: It was met with huge acclaim and featured on Coldplay’s website. Those ‘80s touches and dance beats mixed with huge energy and drive. Psychedelic touches sparred with Electro.-Pop sounds that give a song bursting with life and vitality. A relentless swirling and addictive slice of music; it is impossible not to get caught up in the fiery and feet-tapping mood. Retrospect was released the following year and saw a departure for the girls. Inspired by the works of George Orwell and Jim Morrison there was a quasi-philosophical touch to the song. Deep and thoughtful, the song varied its themes (from Indecisive) and expanded their sound. As we go into Stranger, that sounds is expanded once more. With every release, the girls bring in new concerned and lyrical themes. They do not just stay with a tried-and-tested way of doing things: Their debut E.P. shows them at their most confident and assured. At their most urgent and nuanced, the music across the E.P. unites the sounds of Indecisive and Retrospect. Those deep and intelligent lyrics remains- as do the emotional concerns and introspectiveness- married to a terrific palette of genre-blend and stunning vocals. The girls sound completely tight and bonded throughout the E.P. – even more connected then they did across their singles. It seems the years between- the release of Retrospect and Stranger– saw them perform a lot and hone their sound. The biggest developments for the girls arrived with their new bassist Cheyenne Belle Xeureb- bringing in new melody and inspiration- where the band started to embrace the underground sounds. Pushing away from mainstream/Pop traditions the girls present something edgier and more experimental. Few bands transform and develop their sound as effectively: Fewer manage to achieve this without compromising their core and personality. Cryptic Street have followed their instincts and are at the point where they sound fully-formed and as they should- an act that have taken time to discover who they want to be. Any forthcoming E.P.s or singles will see Stranger’s sound being experimented-with again.
If you are new to the girls- and looking for reference points with regards their sound- then the likes of Warpaint and Foster the People have been mentioned (when it comes to comparisons). Whereas Warpaint are a girl group- Foster the People are a male band- there are worthy familiarities and comparisons to be found. Although both reside in California, there are differences between the two. Foster the People have a sunny and optimistic sound that has seen them gain a lot of fans and followers. Perhaps not seducing critics at the moment- their two albums have not gained overwhelmingly positive reviews- they perhaps lack grit and necessary maturity. Quite subdued and haunting; Warpaint have gained more critical acclaim. The girls’ music hits the heart and is a lot more memorable: A better starting point if you wanted comparisons. The likes of The Smiths, Coldplay and Plato’s Dream Machine are also important acts for the Maltese girls. If you are inclined towards any of these artists- and favour your music with more depth and intelligence than a lot of the mainstream- then check them out and let their music get inside the head (and not be willing to move out).
The E.P.’s title track begins with soft and contemplative strings. Tender and melodic, it is a subtle and fascinating way to begin Stranger– a song that shows grace and passion within the first few notes. Our heroine come to the microphone and lets her early words spark some interpretation. “Don’t let the sun catch you crying/Don’t let the light catch you lying” get your mind racing and wonder what is being assessed. Imploring the listener/her subject not to let it go- the dying light and the night itself- one gets the impressions of a heartbroken soul looking for connection. With the vocal measured and emotive- not too heavy or insincere- you have a song that has subtlety and calm in the early phases. As the second verse unfolds, the sentiments are less oblique and perhaps more direct. “Dance, dance, dance/Dancing in a crowd of people” injects some urgency and happiness into the song- and you can envisage that rapture and abandon- and the mind become intrigued still. Wondering whether the song was enforced and inspired by heartache- and the need to reconnect with something more positive- or a concern inside our heroine’s heart (an anxiety and niggle inside her), I am not sure. Whereas the building composition and vocal alacrity suggest something redemptive; the lyrics point at a heart that is heart and in solitude. Where she dances like an eagle and soars high; surrounded by people and life- she has never felt so alone and destitute. That chorus seems even more relevant and clear the second time around- given what has been revealed now- and the backing vocals add weight and emotion to the foreground. Whilst the composition remains supportive and driving- you get caught up by the bass; something that is prominent throughout the E.P. – the girls have penned their most mainstream song to date. Not in a bad way you see: The memorability and chorus-repeat makes it digestible and singalong; the lyrics have a relatable feel to the listener. A stunning and instant-classic sound to kick-off Stranger; you have a song that sticks in the mind and shows a lot of heart and soul to it.
Kull Lejla opens with a honed and traditional Cryptic Street concoction of tripped-out strings and racing beats. Part-sneaky, part-suave; the introduction is among the coolest and most interesting the band have come up with. There is an exotic flair in the notes- a liquid and chic bass line drives the song- that makes the song danceable and urgent right from the off. Stopping and starting, the composition really starts to earn its pay and evoke emotion and atmosphere. When the vocal does come in, it is another Maltese-spoken song that is synonymous with its beauty as opposed to translatability. For the English-speaking listener you have another largely-musical moment that does not lose its effectiveness- even if you do not understand the words. Fast-flowing and insistent; the vocal shows a pride in Malta and the importance of keeping pure to your roots. Whilst kull lejla means ‘every night’ (in Maltese) you wonder what the song is portraying. The words look at falling rain and the notes of the piano- what I could translate through Bing- there is a romanticism and purity to the vocals. Less anxious and affected than other moments (that will appear on Stranger) you have a song that perfectly introduces the band- their native language and a sound very pure and meaningful to them. A short and memorable slice from the girls; the song is an addictive and unforgettable sound that has no comparisons- the song has such a unique and unexpected charm to it.
Fumes begins as 103 does (later on the E.P.): That mix of ‘80s Synth. /New-Wave together with urgent and choppy beats. A composition that makes you smile and speculate the moment it unfolds- the first few seconds are terrific- you are immersed in the song and fascinated without any words being spoken. The synths. and electronics sound almost intergalactic in their endeavor- you get impressions of being raised to space and floating among the stars- and my mind went to the days of Dark Side of the Moon. Not as experimental and haunted as that classic album; there is a semblance of familiarity to the introductory notes of Fumes. One of the most overtly confessional and introspective tracks- less oblique than anything across the E.P.- our heroine looks inside herself and needs change. Feeling that desire to fly and escape- lost in confusion after a particularly rude awakening- perhaps the title refers to our heroine running on fumes. Tripping and wordless vocals- a side of their song that recalls Coldplay’s go-to move- adds beauty and intensity to the foreground. Unlike the previous two numbers, there is a sense of airiness and space to the song. Less tight and structured than before; there is looseness to the track which means its full impact arrives after repeated listens. Here we look at quasi-philosophical questions and considerations- whether we are tempered and restricted by times; are we truly living? – and deeper issues of society. Not strictly confined to personal investigation and concerns; the track shows the girls are among the most deep and intelligent in modern music. Rather than pander to the proclivities of the mainstream- issues of love and easy-to-digest lyrics- we have something a lot more personal and impressive at work. The composition remains fairly understated to allow the vocals to really resound and work. Backed by thudded beats- that arrives at various intervals- and starlight electronics: That mixture of ‘80s Synths. and Warpaint-esque vocal-and-compositional dynamics results in a song that has mainstream potential and huge originality- few other acts manage to achieve that noble feat. One of the E.P.’s longest tracks- running just shy of three-and-a-half minutes- and you have a track that exploits all the key Cryptic Street colours: Those nuanced and poetic lyrics; those evocative and beautiful vocals; the hard-racing and heartbeat compositional beats. Where our heroine muses and lets her inner-curiosities speak- questions around her own worth and the possibilities that can be achieved- it is perhaps the composition that shows most intrigue. As the closing notes come into view- and our heroine implores her subject to “come closer”- and you have a breathless number that is among the girls’ most epic and expansive. With the initial directness giving clear views- personal doubts and anxieties- the final moments look towards that need for love and answers. The girls blend the straightforward and complex in a song that is a perfect mid-way point to the E.P.
Farsa begins life with a primal and heavy beat that quickly leads to a spirited and Blues-influenced guitar sound. Changing course over a few seconds- ensuring the song has maximum intrigue- you are immersed in the composition and its many sides. Developing into Salsa territory- there is a definite sense of dance to the sway that comes through- fragmented vocals mix to create something hugely evocative. Those choppy and wordless vocal snatches move within the piano-and-beats groove to get the senses fascinated and primed. Whereas 103 begins with ‘80s recollections and promise; here there is something contemporary and of-the-moment- whilst drawing in influences of other genres. Farsa is a type of opera that was originated in Venice (and became popular in the 18th and 19th centuries). Whereas there are semi-operatic tones to the song, the lyrics are delivered in Maltese: One of two songs across the E.P. where the band embraces their mother tongue. Although it is hard/near-impossible to get to the root of the lyrics- unless you are quick on a translator app. or speak Maltese- but the sound and intensity of the vocal cannot be understated. Processed and echoed, the dark and pin-sharp vocal drive develops into something more open and accessible- matching the nimbleness and unexpectedness of the composition. From Salsa elements in the early stages you now get tumbling beats and a catchy-as-Hell bass come through. Twirling and spiraling; you are powerless to resist the feet-tapping and brain-enticing sound that comes through. For most listeners, Farsa will be an instrumental track largely- the vocals add to the effect but are hard to translate- but even so, you get a terrific song. The girls are not keen to abandon their native language for the sake of their artistry- an impressive move and one that few acts do. In a way the song reminds me of a Miles Davis composition. That experimentation and lack of boundaries- that we saw on albums such as Bitches Brew and Sketches of Spain– can be heard here. Past the half-way mark the vocals build in intensity and passion- clearly a vital development and stage in things- before being swallowed by the composition. Graceful and haunting backing vocals come into play- supported by a delirious and tender compositional contrast- as the girls ride that hypnotic wave of song. Unable to appease the bass drive- escape the wonderful mixes of chaos- the song will appeal to all listeners. Without boundaries or prejudice, you have a musical moment that shows just how original and daring Cryptic Street are.
103 begins with bubbling electronics and a rushing beat that recalls ‘80s sounds- Synth.-Pop and New Wave- that gives the track a strange curiosity and sense of sooth. Backed by serene and velvety backing vocals, the song develops and expands its wings- eliciting huge potential and speculation in the introduction. Our lead is speaking out to a subject- or maybe a type of person- and imploring them to “Take a deep breath”. There is that sense (when it comes to the heroine/hero) there is no point in turning back and giving in: They need to keep going and fight on. Unsure about the specific origins of the track- whether there is a relationship breaking up or a hard slice of reality working away- but you get drawn into the evocative mood of the song. The lead vocal has a mixture of veracity and passion; it is soulful and uplifting- retaining a sensitive and sympathetic heart. Backed by lush backing vocals and a spirited composition- that ties ‘80s elements with modern-day Electro. blends- and you get a song that shines brightly. As the song develops it seems like the themes/intention made be first-hand. Our heroine wonders whether she is holding back and being too restrained. Maybe too shy to be cavalier- and take a chance on something special- you become fascinated as to the song’s origins. Maybe a person or lover is holding her back- or caused some hurt and self-doubt- but there is that overriding feeling or strength and defiance. She will not be overcome by such minor threats and emotions- determined to keep going and remain resilient- and the song is a mantra for strength and persistence. Given the song’s non-specific and oblique title, the origins of 103 are not that clear- allowing the listener to speculate and draw their own conclusions. Maybe a rally against the music industry- the need for our heroine/the band to rebel against mainstream expectations- you get a sense relationships and friendships are being represented. Throughout the track those vocals really augment the urgency and emotions being presented. The lead has a huge amount of power and beauty to it, whilst the backing vocals are heart-achingly pure and soothing- being presented in angelic tones. The final moments of the track see the girls combine with wordless vocals and stunning harmonies. As the song comes to its close, I look back and reassess some of the lyrics. Although there are no absolute truths and nominal revelations, there is the sense of suffocation and confinement. Our heroine has been pegged back and wants to break away from things- whether a bad relationship or the restrictions of the music industry. A stunning example of how the band has grown- more confident and compelling than their earliest moments- it shows a big step forward and evolution.
The five-piece band is one of the most exciting in their native Malta. In a nation that still retains old drawbacks- racism and a sense of discrimination in society- the girls have created an E.P. that shows huge courage and a determination. I was impressed they included two Maltese-speaking tracks on the E.P.: It shows they are proud of their heritage and keen to separate themselves from the pack. Across the E.P. you have so many sides and ideas; it is a record that demands a lot of repeats and digging deep- to get to the bottom of the myriad sounds and ideas. As progressive and forward-thinking as any the girls have come up with- more confident and assured than any of their previous cuts- the E.P. is still gaining feedback and positivity- no surprise when you give it a good listen. I know the girls rally against the worst instincts of the modern world- the lack of communication and obsessive nature of social media- and have created an E.P. that promotes human connection and a return to humanity- putting down technology and let music speak to you. The young quintet have battled sexual discrimination and struggles- as is common a lot of countries- to create an E.P. that is a breath of fresh air. The compositions are consistently engaging and stunning: At times they recall Pink Floyd’s most astonishing moments and experimental genius. The vocals are strong and impassioned from start to finish- the backing vocals lush and soothing- whilst the lyrics have poetic potential and look at deeper themes. The girls clearly have a love of literature and poetry: They translate this into songs that take modern-day themes- struggles against anxieties and a need to feel connected- and give it an intelligent and literary edge. Stranger is a startling E.P. from a band that have a prosperous future ahead of them. Few can ignore that tightness and authority throughout the record. The girls should be very proud of what they have achieved.
It has been great checking out the sounds of Cryptic Street: A group with a definite future ahead of them. Before concluding, it is worth mentioning the original themes- Maltese music and girl groups; the importance music will play this year- and seeing where the girls fit in. After one E.P. it looks as though things are going to be bright for the Malta-based act: They have ammunition and a defined sound that mixes their native tongue with something more traditional and mainstream. What I love about them is the range of sounds and genres on display. Unwilling to lazily stick to Pop or Electronica sound they are one of the freshest acts I have heard for a while. Stranger is an E.P. that has done well in Malta and is impressing (the band’s) followers across social media. The five-song collection is a great declaration that will be followed up this year. Malta is one of those nations that may not seem obvious when it comes to new music but is somewhere we shall not be ignoring. My review experience (when it comes to music here) has been the girls predominantly. There is quite a strong Pops scene in Malta, and as such, a lot of the music tends to have that Pop core. What the musicians of Malta do is to take that base and expand it: Bring in some harder and cutting edges together with something more experimental and electric. If you have not properly investigated the music scene of Malta then take some time out today. We are too reliant on mainstream media to guide us towards new music- this tends to limit our tastes and gets rather predictable. Whilst this country is showcasing some terrific musicians we need to become a little more itinerant with our views. I get the chance to travel around the world (metaphorically) when it comes to the newest acts: Those Australian Rock bands and Swedish Electro.-Pop often fly under the radar and are subject to serendipitous discovery. With this year being a bit of a rotter to begin with- given the deaths of some legendary figures- music is needed more than ever. With the tremors of David Bowie’s death still being felt, there is a lot of sadness and reflection in the music industry.
It will be fascinating to see how music responds and develops to these demands and events. I think we will see a lot more originality and intention come through (compared with 2015). Our girls of Cryptic Street have already collected awards in their native Malta- including a 2012 Bay Music gong for best newcomer- and have been featured on radio and across the Internet. With their influences stretching from Jazz and Synth.-Pop; taking in Rock and harder elements, the girls are not a predictable and average band. It is no shock the girls have a solid fan-base and are being talked-about in awed tones. This year is going to be fruitful for them and will be amazing to see where they go from here. The girl groups emerging now are among the music world’s most exciting propositions. Far grittier and edgier than you’d expect- those cliché images of sickly-sweet Pop harmonists are rare these days- it is a sector of music that is showing immense promise. If you have not discovered Stranger and Cryptic Street then let that mystery and complexity overwhelm you and take you somewhere special. The girls have no intention of slowing down and it will be great if they came and played in the U.K. soon. Given the rough start 2016 has provided, we need music to take us somewhere safer and familiar. Those wounds and scars are fresh and the pain very real. If you are looking for something honest, nuanced and deeply impressive, then look no further than Cryptic Street: the girls are here for the long-stay for sure. This year will be exciting for sure- I hope it will be an improvement on the last- and with acts like them around…
MUSIC is in safe hands.
Follow Cryptic Street