At the beginning of any year, you can be guaranteed to see two types of article on any site such as this one: a review of a release from the (only just) previous year, tying up loose ends; and a preview of an anticipated release. I find myself looking both forward and back at the moment, as one of my most anticipated releases of 2020 is a compilation of remixes from one of my favourite releases from 2019.
Irish/Australian artist Bonnie Stewart, recording as Bonniesongs, released her demo and first EP on Australian label Art As Catharsis. Thankfully, her 2019 debut album, Energetic Mind, received a shared release between AAC and British label Small Pond. This has meant the album can be purchased and shipped in a much more affordable fashion wherever one is in the world.
Energetic Mind is an album I had liked and listened to for quite some time but purchased only late in the year – and Wow, I wish I’d bought the album sooner. It’s often the case that I don’t realise just how much I like a release until I hear it on CD. That’s why whenever I make an end of year list, I include only albums I physically own on CD.
Bonniesongs’ debut album is one of the most eclectic and delightful albums I’ve ever heard. Starting with a minimal track of vocal loops and finger clicks, it draws me in almost subliminally. Although the track builds in depth and reverb, it’s not until the immediately following reprise that the crescendo reaches its climax in a Krupa-like crash. If I weren’t aware that Bonnie Stewart is a jazz drummer before, I am now! 123 and 123 Reprise also showcase what to expect from the rest of the album: exercises in repetition and expansion, and chops and changes at just the right times! Everything sounds spontaneous, yet is quite clearly very (well) planned.
Coo Coo is almost 123 and 123 Reprise in a concise one track edition, with additional narrative. Not that there are many lyrics throughout the album, but however minimal the narrative, it’s incredible just how much can be visualised. Coo Coo is a jubilant song of a cuckoo coming out of its clock (I think), and sounds exactly as you might imagine, from that description.
Coo Coo is also the reason I am looking forward to the remix release. Coo Coo (Grimley She Wrote Remix) takes the original song, and the jazzy nature you can hear in the background throughout the album, and brings it to the fore in a combination of broken-beat and future-jazz. (If I had to pick two artists to elaborate on that comparison, it would be Mark de Clive-Lowe and GoGo Penguin).
Remixes can be very hit and miss, and it is rare for me to so eagerly anticipate a release of essentially old material. However, a good remix done well is a wonderful thing to hear. I quite possibly prefer both of the remix releases which followed Nine Inch Nails’ Downward Spiral to the album itself.
I will definitely be interested to hear how the darker songs on the album might change in sound. Barbara is one of two such dark songs in the otherwise largely light sounding album. The scratching and stabbing cello is reminiscent of John Cale’s viola in his VU days. It provides the perfect horror soundtrack to a song devoted to Night of the Living Dead. The malice in the music perfectly fits the chorus/film quote, “they’re coming for you, Barbara”.
The other of the two dark songs is Frank, clearly drawing on Frankenstein, and suitably eerie. I particularly love these two songs, even though neither is what I was expecting, from what I’d heard from Bonniesongs prior to the release of Energetic Mind.
Ice Cream is a delicious slice of indie folk pop, though it manages to change about halfway through, and even though I know this, somehow I always forget. I’ll be listening to Ice Cream, thinking it’s quite enjoyable, but not really a favourite – and then the switch hits, and I remember just why it is a favourite.
Cat and Mouse is the last of my particular favourites on the album. It’s absolutely beautiful, and beautifully understated. I almost wish it were the final track, but actually the title track does close the album better. In fact, this is another thing which is quite incredible about the album. The sequencing is brilliant, and just as the songs sound spontaneous, yet are clearly not, so is the sequencing.
I can’t imagine many of the tracks without the tracks either side of them. Barbara and Frank are perfectly separated by Home. Despite completely different styles, Frank flows perfectly into Ice Cream. In fact, the three-song streak of Frank, Ice Cream, then Cat and Mouse is amazing.
I don’t really think I can come up with enough superlatives for Energetic Mind. From an album I knew I liked, but didn’t expect would make my end of year list, this has very quickly become an album I love, and which I’ll definitely be in my list of favourite releases from 2019.
I am fully expecting the remix release to be one of my favourite releases from 2020. Two tracks have been remixed and released so far, and I am eagerly anticipating the next.
01. 123 (3:52)
02. 123 Reprise (2:12)
03. Dreamy Dreams (4:06)
04. Coo Coo (3:38)
05. Barbara (5:54)
06. Home (3:22)
07. Frank (4:23)
08. Ice Cream (4:04)
09. Cat & Mouse (4:58)
10. Energetic Mind (4:19)
Total Time – 40:48
Bonnie Stewart – Vocals, Guitar, Banjo, Drums, Percussion
Freya Schack-Arnott – Cello
Thomas Botting – Double & Electric Bass
Alyx Dennison & David Trumpmanis – Guitar Noodles, Bass Synth, Zombie Vocals