The Blue is available at:
August 2016 (SoundCloud)
WITH this year starting to get darker and colder…
it is worth looking at music that gets the spirit warmed and the body moving. I have heard a lot of bands and artists who have a pretty great sound – it tends not to stick in the mind and you go off looking for something else. My feature act is setting themselves aside and already (so early in the career) gathering some great reviews and hype. Before I come to them, it is worth looking at addictive music and its importance; the fusion of Pop and Funk and the London-based bands forging forward in 2016. It may seem like a minor point, but you cannot underestimate the strength of a catchy song – one that gets your feet moving and the body dancing. There is a lot of seriousness and po-faced music going around: every now and then, the listener yearns for something more rousing, danceable and funky. So many of the brand-new bands/acts emerging still lack the necessary rhythmic freedom and positivity – still confined and limited. Some of the most instant and enduring songs I have come across this year have been noted for their catchiness and incredible sense of energy. M83’s Go is one of those songs that creates dance and merriment: an unashamedly giddy song that, once heard, rattles around the brain and compels you to listen again and again. Cocoa Futures take that core and expand it to create music full of nuance, infectiousness, and ambition. When reading reviews for Cocoa Futures, that word ‘infectious’ keeps coming back and standing out. It might sound like an odd word to apply to music but one I do not see often enough. So many new songs are okay on first listen but you move on and do not really feel the need to return. In order to survive in the modern age, the songs you perform have to have to go deeper and ensure the consumer is hooked and entranced. I have a great love for musicians that try something new and genuinely push themselves.
On the other side of the argument: there are those that think catchy and infectious music is shallow and lacks any real emotional clout and authority. The artists that create upbeat/repeatable songs and get you thinking are quite a rare breed. I agree there are a few bands/musicians that can pen an addictive song but it lacks any real intelligence and wisdom. Cocoa Futures are one of those propositions that have been gaining rave reviews and rightfully so. Penning music that hits all the senses and gets the brain sizzling, engaged and provoked: a genuinely exciting act that are going to be around for a very long time. I shall raise a couple of new points, but for now, it is worth introducing you to my featured act:
Greg, Dave, Jack, and Zoe
“Our ethos is pretty simple – to be ambitious about making music we’re proud of. And to have a nice time.” Greg, Cocoa Futures
Scotland-bred and London-based, Cocoa Futures are the brainchild of frontman Greg (vocals/bass). They specialise in pristine pop harmonics crossed with a taste for the unexpected. Greg assembled a band including Dave (drums), Zoe (keys) and Jack (guitar) and first came to prominence in 2014 through the self-released upbeat singles ‘Do Something’ and ‘Scotland’, while commanding distinguished reviews for their select live shows, which included the Great Escape and Camden Crawl festivals. This early promise served as a staging post for the band to determine their musical direction and decamp to the studio to write. And write. Crafting and developing manifold demos became a daily pastime for Greg and when he sent a batch of these over to producer Marc Withasee (Micachu & the Shapes), he received a wordless reply that contained an amazing first draft of what would evolve into ‘The Blue’. Withasee and Cocoa Futures bonded over a love of ‘messed up’ pop and the producer was instrumental in setting tempos, tweaking arrangements and bringing out the band’s penchant for building tracks around loops and effects as they collaborated on the four-song ‘Blue’ EP, completed in early 2016. When Greg shared the results with Lost In The Manor Records, the label wasted no time in offering the band a contract and the EP’s release will coincide with a number of key London launch dates. ‘Blue’, mixed by Max Taylor and mastered by Jason Mitchell, is immediate yet intriguing, a collection of fantastic pop moments wrapped up in music of great depth, and its release seems set to propel Cocoa Futures to the frontline of UK pop’s key innovators”.
This year has been a bit of a mixed one for new acts. It has been more consistent and impressive than 2015 but I still find too many artists who do not resonate and linger at all. So many artists are temporary and transitory and have not really cemented something original enough to keep them in the consciousness. Cocoa Futures hail from Scotland but have moved to London and found inspiration there. It hasn’t been easy but the cosmopolitanism, variation, and colour feed right into their single, The Blue. It is not just the city and people that have brought about such a terrific song – the mixing of genres is not to be underestimated. Pop and Soul go alongside Funk and Alternative without seeming disorientated and over-stuffed. I love Rock music and harder-edged bands but something with a bit of slinkiness and movement. I mentioned how a lot of bands are getting too serious and that is something that is becoming more prolific and widespread. You can sing about love and the unpredictableness of romance and still make songs that have some optimism and variegation. What Cocoa Futures provide are Prince-like guitar squalls and histrionics with rump-shaking memorability and hook. The quartet has come from Scotland and ensconced themselves in the capital now. Scotland is, as I have stated in other reviews, one of the most prolific and prodigious nations when it comes to great music. We overlook artists there in favour of England and forget just how many terrific acts are based there. The difference there, as opposed to London, is the sense of freedom and lack of anxiety evident. What I find with Scottish music is a sense of heritage and community. A lot of bands and acts vibe from their past heroes without replicating them. You get touches of the finest Scottish artists ever; fed through a very modern-sounding and fresh prism. A few people assume music in Scotland is going to be samey and hard-nosed but there are rafts of acts that know how to inject plenty of fun and Funk into the mix. It is not fair to assume London has been solely responsible for Cocoa Future’s success and direction. They have stated, in a recent interview, how it took a while to assimilate to London life and find a niche – now they have; the music is mutating and growing with the beat and flair of the city. In The Blue; you can hear a stunning mix of Scottish traditional and singular sound with the expanse and daring of London – together with little flavours of the U.S. Comparisons have been made with Prince – the stunning falsetto do not do anything to deter that thought – and it looks like things are moving forward for the intrepid four-piece.
London is a city that has always been synonymous with its wonderful music – the natural British centre for the best and brightest. I can see the appeal of going to London and pursuing the music dream. Few opportunities are to be found in a lot of towns around the country so more and more musicians are emigrating in order to get their music heard. In the case of Cocoa Futures: the guys are still new but already being tipped for great things and success. They have a few gigs lined up – a chance to sort their material and try different things – and it is all very exciting right now. It is a very tough and competitive market (especially in London) so you need a very special sound to get people talking and ensure longevity. So many waltz into the city with something cliché and regular and assume there is room for them and success will come – rather stunned and overwhelmed by the reality check that awaits them. Cocoa Futures have taken care to hone their music and work on it rigorously. Despite the fact they’re hip-swiveling and insatiable: that sort of freedom, sass, and quality has not been lazily tossed off and blagged. Among the most hard-working and determined acts around the country: one feels that dedication and work ethic will see them rewarded and celebrated. London is showing just how many great artists are in their midst and what variegation and choice is available. It is understandable coming to the city and being fearful and anxious – not quite sure whether survival and prosperity is going to be assured. No such concerns with Cocoa Futures who have a great management team behind them and some important dates lined – London crowds starting to turn on to a wonderful act who make music for the masses.
At this point, I normally look at a band/musician’s past and compare their past work with their current. That is tricky in the case of Cocoa Futures who are just beginning and in the early stages. When they unveil their E.P., it will afford a chance to see how the songs different and the range of sounds they have in their locker. At this juncture, it is down to The Blue with regards defining the London band. It already sounds completely fully-formed and confident: hardly natural for a band so new and fresh. Of course, the individual members have been around for a while and performed before – they sound like they have been gigging for years and recording just as long. You never get a sense, throughout The Blue, that there are any hesitations and room for improvements. The band has released other songs in the past – Do Something and Scotland were released in 2014 – but are hard to get your hands on. Essentially, their 2016-work is what matters and what the band is putting out to the ether. They are bonded by a love of messed-up Pop and that fascination with hooks and samples – tweaking them and seeing just what can be achieved through music. Quite an unorthodox and experimental group that differs from the pack – those who will compel others and innovate the scene. So many of today’s ‘best’ bands lack necessary malleability and originality making one wonder why they were tipped in the first place. Cocoa Future’s gorgeous harmonies and Funk-kicking guitar lines stand out on their own – there is so much more when you dig deep. Just consider what Blue will contain: an E.P. sure to be noted for its dexterity and peerless quality. The critics and reviews that have seen the band live are already talking about them as one of those acts that will change music. A lot of press attention is coming their way so that all bodes well for them. Hopefully, their future E.P. will be praised as heartedly as their single. If that is the case, and one would assume that, then the future is very much safe and assured for them.
The Blue starts out in a mesh of industrial beats and electronics. With the same sort of flair and sound as Word Up – it has that kind of Cameo ‘80s R&B. to it – and you are instantly braced and surprised. I have not heard a song come out the blocks so authoritatively without huge guitars and noise. The band has kept things restrained but managed to create such an atmosphere and gravity with simple components. As I said a little bit earlier: they love to tweak beats and sounds and love a good loop/hook. That is all evident right from the off and there is no time for gradual build and surprise. The Tottenham group are on the same page and ensure The Blue gets into the head right away. Perhaps looking at relationships and two lovers with different views – the early lines are quite intriguing. Imploring (the girl) not to fight it and the listener will come to their own conclusions. A good time to “feel low” and words explaining how experience matters – perhaps the rituals of humiliation and misunderstanding are being laid out. I got the impression of the duo in a relationship but being separated by personality clash. They want different things from life and it seems like the bond is about to break. The band has not explained the true origin of the song but I was thinking of a general fall-out between people who have lost that love and affection. The hero’s voice is falsetto-sharp and pure but carries a sadness and weight to it. Some of the words have intelligibility issues – a bit too low in the mix perhaps – but the vocal beauty and heartfelt delivery pave over those cracks. The composition, equal to the foreground, provides so much joy and fascination. It is hard to explain what goes into the sound and how it was crafted. You get sturdy beats and definite funkiness. Calypso percussion and tropical vibes sit with jagged, robot-like electronics and the overall sensation is quite hard to take in. Few bands are as original when it comes to compositions so The Blue is a song that demands a few spins so you can appreciate it. Our man wants to take a holiday from feeling low and just get away from things. At this point, one wonders whether it is just relationships that are getting him down. There is a wider possibility that life in general is causing issues and not quite as he hoped. I am not sure, but that openness and possibility exists. In terms of the vocals and production sound: it is a very modern and cutting-edge sound and one that puts your mind in 2016. The compositions recall more of the ‘80s and mixes influences as wide as Talking Heads and Madonna. There is a bit of La Roux and contemporaries, but for the most part, you are taking back to the past.
Everyone will get their own view of the truths and origins, but for me, there is that desire to be somewhere else and escape from a harsh bond – perhaps start again or take a break. Vivid, oblique lyrics about car crashes and helicopters take the imagination elsewhere. Take the weekend out the city, our man states. The ideas of franticness, busy streets and exhaustion start to emerge and I was getting ideas of fleeing the city and finding some solace and reflection. It is interesting hearing the song unfold and the way your opinions change according to the narrative. The central figure (the girl) is being cut down and caught up with; there is a definite sense of strain and emotion but the lyrics never truly reveal their truth. It is the images and ideas being sung about that form their own story rather than literal revelation and backstory. I am not sure whether Greg has explained the song – and I may be off the mark – but The Blue is something that will be taken to heart by the listener. Greg did explain how there is a general sadness that goes into the song: it is okay to feel that way and there are fun ways to avoid the depression. That is a nice way of looking at things and the city, key in my mind, is a perfect example of both sides. It can be a harrowing and lonely existence being inside a busy city but there are so many distractions and entertainment – capable of feeling together, as one and fulfilled. Modern life is so hectic and unpredictable: most of us get caught in a bad rut and there is that need to overcome the blues and reclaim the soul. Various reviewers have put names like David Bowie and Hot Chip together with The Blue, and that is understandable. The band has a wide range of idols and you get a little bit of each in there. Bowie’s Let’s Dance work is evident in the driving, Funk-heavy composition and the same can be said of Prince. There is a definite impression of the sadly-departed legend in the falsetto vocal and delivery. When it all comes to it, you get a band that is very much separate of others and merely bring other musicians in as leads and guide. It is the insatiable and determined stomp (with the pulsating bass line) that not only gets you dancing and jiving along but will go down well in the live setting. Perhaps there is a summertime flair to the song but it is something that will translate into autumn and winter – a track that is uplifting and wonderful in any season. By the closing notes, you have taken a lot in and heard from the hero. Those blues and stresses are heavy on his mind but there is the chance to get away for a couple of days and unwind. Whatever you take from the song and however you view its lyrics, one thing is evident: that catchiness and addictiveness reign from every note. The mind and soul will be nourished by the lyrics and the contrasts of blues and escapism. The body and bones will react to the busy, multicoloured composition that is impossible to deconstruct and explain. It is such a quirky and perfect setting for the song and differs from everything out there. Bands who play in a similar style often keep the composition a bit basic and predictable I find. Cocoa Futures lace together various genres, sounds, and hooks together in a splendid way. All of this together signals a group that has a lot of years ahead of them and let’s hope they keep the quality this high. If their E.P. contains the same gems and standard as The Blue then critics will go wild. That comes out on December 2nd so make sure you keep your eyes open and prepare for something quite wonderful. London is used to producing and supporting some tremendous acts – Cocoa Futures definitely rank alongside the finest in the city right now.
The Blue is the latest single from Cocoa Futures and, as said previously, a song that is getting plenty of buzz, love and wonderful feedback. I know the guys have an E.P. (Blue) in the pipeline and that will be exciting to see. Being taken care of by Lost in the Manor (London) and filled with promise and determination – keep your eyes on the band. Let’s hope they have time aside to add more to their social media as it would be great to hear about where they came from. I know interviews are the best way to learn about musicians, but a little biography and insight help new listeners and fans learn about an artist. The guys play Lost in the Manor’s Blogtober – which I am part of – and that will give them a chance to nestle alongside some great acts and get their music to a new crowd at The Finsbury. I hope the band gets some more promotional images out there and up as it would be good to see – this review has a few images but not many. Looking at social media and you would think it is a one-man act: leaving quite a lot of mystery and questions towards Cocoa Futures. That might come with more exposure and demand but I am sure fans and followers would like to see more visual insight from the group – some photos that put faces to names and show them on the road. I know the group (Greg and Dave at least) began in Edinburgh and relocated from the city – finding it a little boring and stifling as musicians. London has opened up its arms, but of course, there is work to be done and more music on the horizon. The Blue E.P. will be interesting and one wonders whether the template will follow the lead of The Blue. The track is, quite rightly, defining the band and the temptation would be to produce another 3 or 4 versions of that song. Many bands and artists do this and that can lead to problems. If you become homogenised and predictable that early then critics have you figured out. I know Cocoa Futures have a long list of influences and styles that inspire them. I am confident we will see that come to fruition on the E.P. – a wide range of different genres and themes being explored. Until then, they are getting on the road and picking up that all-important live experience.
Before concluding things, it is worth looking at the earlier points and seeing where Cocoa Futures are heading. Greg is very much out front for the band, but his crew and bandmates are not to be overlooked and underestimated – making sure the music is fleshed-out and vivacious; the connection and understanding between the members is incredible. Perhaps the Edinburgh-based lead has found more prosperity down south but you can hear elements and strands of Scotland and the musicians there within Cocoa Futures. I wonder whether various well-established musical cities are going to suffer in the future. A lot of acts are decamping and finding more excitement and popularity away from home so it gets you wondering what of the fate (of the other areas). Edinburgh has always produced exceptional musicians but a lot of the new generation are leaving, and with it, taking wonderful music away with them. London, as a result, is becoming more crowded but that is good for the music economy – so much choice for the consumer. Cocoa Futures have arrived with plenty of heart and determined spirit and found themselves a loyal and faithful management team – willing to support the music and get them gigs. I would urge you to see the band play if you get the chance and find out why they are being lauded by so many critics. It is early days still but the propulsion and push The Blue has given them will lead to some great things. Few new musicians are taking their mind away from heartbroken and serious love songs and understanding how vital energy and addictiveness are to music. It is not cheap and easy creating something catchy and dance-able so long as the lyrics have a bit of seriousness and soul to them. There are those acts that can provide catchy songs but often lack any depth and intelligence – it can become cloying and frustrating the more you hear them. Cocoa Futures have shown just what can be achieved from a blend of wisdom, Funk and emotiveness. The bond between the members ensures every note strikes from the speakers and gets the feet and backside moving and involved. It is going to be wonderful seeing the group flourish and discover London in all its delights. Cocoa Futures play Ryan’s Bar on the 16th; they head to The Finsbury for Blogtober and then to Sebright Arms in December. More dates are likely to follow in 2017. I am looking forward to charting a group who are just beginning their careers and have plenty of potential and scope. When their E.P. is released, I know there will be wider demands and they will have touring demands across the U.K. Until that moment, and whilst they plan their future, you should keep in touch with Cocoa Futures and just where they are heading. Surely they will be one of those acts…
CAPABLE of some very big things.
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