with Mouse Teeth
Reviewed by Adam Piotrowski
Leicester / Northampton based indie folk musician Freya Rose has been playing live for the past few years as a solo acoustic act and has released a number of singles and EP’s starting with the Sadhead EP in May 2021. But today she released her first LP, Girlhood, and a in recent interview promised a big show and good time at the Big Difference Album Launch Party. At the Handmade Festival earlier this year Freya played her first show with her full band, and she has been hard at work putting together the new album and rehearsing ready for tonight, but first…
The evening started with a very enjoyable set by local act Mouse Teeth. Her darkly poetic lyrics were backed by fuzzy electric guitars in looping rhythms; occasionally spoken word was layered on top of dissonant and dramatic effects-laden swells. The artist, who used to perform under the name Nancy Dawkins was clad in vintage red dress and cowboy boots, pale blue eye shadow popping in the warm light of the basement venue, contributing to her unique persona.
The real strength in the songs were the words – provocative, revealing, deeply personal and brave; intense images such as nails digging into someone’s back, and revelations such as not girlfriend material a confessional with a claim of being too much of a slut to be a girlfriend.
We were treated to a brand-new song, just a couple days old, with a working title of I’ll do my best, featuring lyrics about her Dad laughing at her convictions when she spoke to him over the phone, but staying strong to personal beliefs despite the pain they might bring. The performance was generous and intensely personal and I would recommend seeing her perform at one of her upcoming opening slots.
The main act, Freya Rose, took the stage at 9:15, donned in party hat and dusky purple dress and accompanied by 5 musicians, a smile on her face which barely left all night despite the self-described moniker of being ‘indie sad pop connoisseur’. The set started with the short 20Something, clarinet swooning over acoustic guitar and buttery smooth vocals, on an evening when each track on the new album was played in order. The title track Girlhood started out sonically similar, but layers of electronic drums, backing vocals and very tasteful bass guitar were added as the song progressed to a slightly fuller sound.
You kicked things up a notch with handclaps and whistling synths, the band slotting into their role nicely, with no wasted notes, each part working well to serve the song and the singer. A retro bedroom indie folk vibe shone bright in Odd Socks, reminiscent of Badly Drawn Boy’s debut album Hour of Bewilderbeast, with click-clacking percussion, a deep soulful vocal and a playfully childlike lalala refrain.
Throughout, the singer’s voice was strong, rich and smooth, and the band provided nice touches such as glockenspiel, electronic drum effects and clarinet pushing out thick melodies. For me, the bass player shone bright through every song, playing understated lines, punctuating key moments with taste and style.
The show really kicked it up a notch with Before I Go, a duet with Freya’s partner / guitarist Henry Webb, a Motown shuffle with the lyrical refrain ‘it’s just how I cope with the thought of dying alone / will you hold my hand before I go’ leading into a soulful guitar solo interplaying with saxophone swells and layers of backing vocalists.
Here they broke from the album running order with a solo acoustic number Mind of Mine from debut ep Sadhead, with the band members sitting on the floor for a break, followed by a rollicking cover of the Phoebe Bridgers song, Kyoto introduced with ‘This is a song I didn’t write, but I wish I did,’ the bouncy rhythm changes perfectly synced and a high spot of the set, highlighting the celebratory and fun atmosphere of the evening.
Quarter-Life-Crisis delicately pondered the challenges of ‘growing old’ in your 20’s. Big Man Even Bigger Shoes built with distorted guitar chords ringing out before calling out men who are more invested in status than coming to terms with their feelings, the rhythm stomping loudly in unison. Spineless was understated and in a live setting didn’t seem to take off; perhaps this is a song better appreciated on record than live.
Retrospect felt like the culmination of the evening, a chugging redemptive sing-along, that feels like it should have been written by someone of a much more advanced age, about making it through difficult times. The band were truly acting as one, knowing smiles and glances exchanged between them, as they bounced and shuffled. The line in the song ‘it takes a bit of time to find the people who will hold you close’ could have easily been written about this band of friends.
The singer introduced the final song Mary as being about her mother the lines ‘Some monster took away your brain / no pictures left in frames’ perhaps shedding a light on why Freya sings with maturity beyond her years. Guitars circling and a steady beat swirled into a drone-like effect, while soulful clarinet rounded out the sound ending with the melody gently twinkling along while the jubilant singer thanked the audience with a glowing smile.
Overall, the unique experience of hearing a new album in it’s entirety was very enjoyable and helped to hammer home the themes on the album such as living as a female in a strange modern world. On top of the solid players on stage, great effort was made to recreate the sound of the album including samples and effects linking songs together. Not enough can be said for the band playing together as a solid unit in a modest, appropriate way, which surely is helped by their interconnectedness.
Chris Butler played keyboards on the night, but also produced the album and co-wrote a number of songs. Freya’s partner and co-writer Henry Webb had an established chemistry with the drummer and bassist (Esmerelda Edwards) who also play on his solo project The Bootworks. Shout out too to Becky Gray on clarinet and providing effective and engaging backing vocals.
This performance represents a welcome step for a solo acoustic singer-songwriter developing a much fuller and deeper sound, the start of a new chapter for the young and promising Freya Rose – let’s hope this is one of many to come.
See Mouse Teeth on Friday 10th Nov 2023 at The Big Difference, click here for details.
Videos from tonight’s gig:
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