Tag Archives: sighs

REVIEW – Bailey Cremeans: ‘Celestial City’ EP, 2014 (“a broken-hearted altar-boy, drowning his sorrows in stolen communion wine”)

8 Apr
Bailey Cremeans: 'Celestial City' EP

Bailey Cremeans: ‘Celestial City’ EP

Here’s what I hold against the all-conquering Coldplay – they write, and perform, the inflated ghosts of songs.

This is not, in itself, a problem. Songs don’t necessarily need clarity – nor do they need to sit foursquare on solid points, like well-built houses. Sometimes all they need to be are eerie, moaning rags blown by on the wind; or they could be dream-pop memory-blurs, a murmur of what might be or might have been felt. Yet with Coldplay you get the worst of both worlds (a thunderous arena-sized vagueness, a song which is all brightly-smudged outsides) and it means that when I draw comparisons between Bailey Cremeans and Coldplay, it sounds as if I’m setting him up.

Much like Chris Martin, the young Missourian’s a piano balladeer at heart. Despite the occasional damascene synth wash or passing organ-cloud, he keeps coming back to the sound of black wood, ivory keys and felt hammers on strings; everything pared back to a soft, lonely, reverberant toll. His rich, slurred high-tenor voice makes him sound like a broken-hearted altar-boy, drowning his sorrows in stolen communion wine. It can sing and shade a lyric all the way down from a heartfelt question into a dissolving liquid texture. It suggests that, like the Coldplay boys, he’s copped a listen to dream-pop’s narcotic meld of boy/girl, solid/disintegrating – but unlike Coldplay, Bailey never lets a song run away into outright vapour. These songs have body – they use the heft and strength of the piano. Sometimes they slump against its laquered wood, desperate and bereft, gripping for dear life. Sometimes they bloom out of it, their faith absolute – “you, my stars, my sun. / You, my lover, the one.”

Five songs. Five songs of the kind of reflective, raw-boned feeling that’s increasingly anathema to today’s meticulous pop. Tides is the kind of grief-stricken torch song I’d’ve cried myself empty over when I was seventeen: a slowly burning sailing ship carried on gliding multi-tracked harmonies, as Bailey struggles to hold his fractured memories and dignity together in song. “The tides rushed in. / Your hands were on my skin. / If you had told me then I wouldn’t have believed it… / Was just a sad, confused boy. / And you got what you wanted from me – / and now I’m free.”

Bailey himself is still only in his teens. It’s tempting to hype him as a ghostly, spontaneous child-man, bleeding himself out on every passing thorn – something self-spun out of a faded diva gown, who creeps quietly into abandoned theatres to carol over the wreck of a concert grand. Unfortunately, too many bits of truth get in the way. Theres’ the bright and bubbly Bailey whom you can track down on Facebook; those Lana Del Rey and Ellie Goulding covers on his Soundcloud page; the stint playing keyboards for an American Idol contestant… It’s hard to project lonesome Gothic fantasies onto someone when he networks so cheerfully. You end up wondering how the little bastard has the right to sound this sad – or to sound as if he knows so much – whenever he starts to sing his own songs, putting all of the high-school smiles aside and becoming the naked soul who calls on the stars themselves for comfort. “Orion, this air is wearing thin / and I’m more afraid than I’ve ever been. / Won’t you save me? / Won’t we burn bright? / Orion, I’m losing this fight – / promise I won’t be alone tonight.”

And then you don’t question – you’re just glad that he does sound that way. Great pop music’s just perverse like that.

Well, if you’re looking for songs of preening, there’s always Rufus Wainwright: and, while you’re at it, forget Coldplay. Bailey’s songs have more in common with that skeletal, devastatingly sad album of piano crooners which Paul Buchanan salvaged from the wreck of The Blue Nile a couple of years ago. You could throw in some other names, credible or otherwise – the Christine McVie of Songbird; the early, pre-glitz Elton John at his most open; a freshly-bereaved Francis Dunnery overlapping crafted pop and primal howl on ‘Man’. These are men and women who bring a helpless and beautiful tone to those songs when they sing them, as if the emotion is being flooded out of them in an soft and unending surge. Bailey sings lines like “face to face / This story is ending, we’re free in our hearts. / Wounds are mending, we’re never apart / No tears in your eyes, my love. / No tears in your eyes, my love,” with the same blend of heart-torn sorrow and fervent faith; each turned in on the other.

It’s not often that you get to hear someone who can sing into the core of simple words like this the way that Bailey does: illuminating them but making them bleed, putting flesh onto the old lines and making them ache again. He deserves huge success. I just hope that, if he gets it, it doesn’t hollow him out.

Bailey Cremeans: ‘Celestial City’
Bailey Cremeans (self released, no catalogue numer or barcode)
Download-only EP
Released: 6th January 2014

Get it from:

Free or name-your-price at Bandcamp, Freemp3fan.com or Soundcloud

Bailey Cremeans online:
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REVIEW – One Thousand Lucky Cranes: ‘One Thousand Lucky Cranes’ EP, 2012 (“restful hiccups”)

16 May
One Thousand Lucky Cranes: 'One Thousand Lucky Cranes' EP

One Thousand Lucky Cranes: ‘One Thousand Lucky Cranes’ EP

From Tennessee to the heart of the mountains of central Japan is a long way. I’m not sure what’s brought Ben Bryant from one to the other, but his debut offering as One Thousand Lucky Cranes shows the stretch. While these four tunes are nominally in the box for downtempo chillout electronica (with a side helping of glitch), they’re also attenuated, deconstructed tunes. Untitled agglutinations. Restful hiccups. A feeling that’s a little like that moment when, relaxing on a beach somewhere, you’re momentarily jolted into realising just how far from home you are.

Despite the tumbling data-flop of its intro (and the corrupting glitch atmospherics which score creases and interruptions into its texture), No.1 quickly reveals itself as deconstructed soul. More specifically, a Philly-inspired slow jam; from the lustrous breath-sighs to the jazzy climbs, to those Air-style analogue doodles with their pitch-bending vocalisé effect. Everything in it has that cushioned lushness and summertime daydream feel to it, with electric piano pads stroked and lovingly distorted into tiled, fuzzed chillout chimes. Notes and sounds have a fallaway feel to them, as Ben toys with wavering queasy pitching or leaves us in expectation. Japanese trinket tinkles worm their way into the mix: toys wearing down their batteries on the console.

There’s a little bit of soul in No.2, though only the slightest taste. One of Ben’s sounds is sourced from the sweetest electric organ sounds, but sliced off the top of the frequencies and rendered from gospel hints into an artful saccharin. Most of the other sounds are flickered by processing – treble-sharpened melody gurgles, a sweet baby-tone climb glimpsed through a strobing blur of reverb. Even the drum sounds (despite keeping a thread of industrial funk running throughout) are inverted and upended, imploded beats and cymbal hits trapped in a thicket.

On No.3, glitched beats are dropped into the music like someone dropping random glass beads into a Geiger counter. A slow phased sweep of synth pads (like the luminous cloud-roll Prophet-noise of the late ‘70s), offers something slightly meditative and slightly irritated, cross-legged but glaring sideways. Layers of glitched percussion twists and carpet-bomb bass distortions are folded into the mix. If you’ve still kept hold of that beachy simile from above, imagine the same, but with little smoke-shells bursting in mid-air above the mellow golden sands.

No.4 rises out of a sea of finely sifted white noise, revealing an ominous minor-key structure behind it. There’s something here that’s similar to the sweetly-sung anxieties of Horace Andy at work with Massive Attack on ‘Mezzanine’: a hint of ghost-town industry, of grand soul with the security sucked out of it… perhaps an echo of Detroit despair imprinted on in the architecture. Rather than Andy’s sensual suede-creak of a voice, though, the vocal here is an accelerated burble, part-housefly and part child-babble, stretching and meandering around the slow-stepping arches of fuzzy melody. Glitch-taps and dubstep activity fire about in the percussion, data-screeches kick some cold sparks off the chords. Throughout, the white noise comes through in hose-spurts; or tide-smacks, pushing its way through the buildings – a dream of the first drops of the flood. As with all of the tracks on this EP, the sense of solidity, dislocation and imminent upset come bundled close together, blurred over like a multiple exposure.

One Thousand Lucky Cranes: ‘One Thousand Lucky Cranes’
One Thousand Lucky Cranes (self-released, no catalogue number or barcode)
Vinyl/download EP
Released: 26th November 2012

Get it from:
Nimbit Music, Bandcamp.

One Thousand Lucky Cranes online:
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REVIEW – David Hurn: ‘Sick Of Hate’ single, 1999 (“drained of energy but not of humanity”)

8 Jul
David Hurn: 'Sick Of Hate'

David Hurn: ‘Sick Of Hate’

For better or worse, former Ever-Opening Flower frontman David Hurn left behind a lot when he quit that band’s deep-blue, textured shades and unusual blend of Rain Tree Crow, Rush and Morrissey. It wasn’t just the rock-band muscle and ghostly electronics that Ever-Opening Flower offered, but the aggressiveness of the detail; the assertion and meaty impersonality offered by a pushing bass, rock drumming and high amplification… the way it can obstruct and drown any soft brush of associations which you might want to imply rather than state outright. Pros and cons.

Left to his own devices, Hurn’s songs are hushed, internalized, almost entirely acoustic; and none of them rises much above a whisper. His guitar and the wistfully resigned tones of his low-tenor voice are joined by droplets of detached, forgetful piano and the sorrowful whistle of detuned radios. Sick Of Hate is a spare, isolated, note-picking thing; drained of energy but not of humanity. It’s the soft, tired noise left behind after the London bustle has passed and the frantic energy has ebbed. “I’m sick and tired of hate, / Of rain on the streets./ You and me are far too small to make a difference…” If it fights back, it fights back like the grass – bent back by hostile forces but refusing to be shaped by them.

There are some shades of Red House Painters (and the perennial Nike Drake) in there. It’s the sighing gloom, the mouse-like quiet; the way you have to focus yourself in on the story, to have to want to care before you can get anything out of it. You’re eavesdropping on the final deterioration of a love affair, the lack of conclusion after the arguments become meaningless. David murmurs “The mess that we made needs cleaning up for the last time. / Are you feeling weak and poor, or just tired?” In some ways Sick Of Hate also looks back towards Hurn’s old debt to David Sylvian; but where Sylvian wraps himself in impenetrable mystical robes and perfects the shamanic droop of his eyelids, the other David still cares about the realities ruling the strained existences of everyday people. “The value of our lives, that we would both die for – / but something’s telling me the truth matters more…”

The B-side – (For Missguided) – is Hurn at the ambient guitar sketchpad. He improvises with sombre, spinily picked chords on his acoustic and with moaning soundscapes of experimental string noise: pings, knocks and microtonal whale whispers. It’s like the spookier moments of Pink Floyd’s ‘Meddle’, or like Bill Nelson locked in with Bert Jansch during a rain-swept dusk. In its way, it continues Sick Of Hate’s autumnal atmosphere of regret, inertia and (with its empathic sense of resignation) even a touch of grace. While the bittersweet fog of sadcore usually blows, trapped, around the happysad streets of San Francisco (or wherever Will Oldham or Bill Callaghan might be hanging their battered hats), David Hurn, a prince of rueful shrugs, is establishing a bridgehead for it over here in the tired old brickwork of the Smoke.

David Hurn: ‘Sick Of Hate’
day Release Records Ltd., DR105
7-inch vinyl single
Released: 1999

Buy it from:
Burning Shed (original vinyl single is a limited edition of 1,000 copies) – otherwise look for this second-hand.

David Hurn online:
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T & The Wonder: ‘Corsage’ single (“a withering bouquet of sympathy”)

5 Feb
T & The Wonder: 'Corsage'

T & The Wonder: ‘Corsage’

“There are no constants, / even if we want them.” Perhaps it’s the shift of moving around, splitting apart. Chicago chamber pop duo T & The Wonder are Chicago-based no longer. Now based on separate sides of the States (singer Tavis Balkin is on the West Coast, multi-instrumentalist Patrick McCormack in Vermont) they remain a duo by an effort of will, affinity and determination. Sometimes long-distance relationships do work out…

I digress. Perhaps it’s the shift of moving around, splitting apart, but this post-move single (recorded in snatched December sessions around other practical commitments) sees T & The Wonder swapping between hope and despondency as if soberly walking a coin over their knuckles. The live drums and strings which they used to use might have been surrendered to budgeting and lack of opportunity (swapped for synthetic equivalents); but their bookish, light-touch ascerbity remains. Corsage is, in more ways than one, a withering bouquet of sympathy. Over ticking guitar, and a trapped tinkle of piano Tavis addresses a woman’s disappointment as she ages – lonely, stifled and perpetually stranded. “Is the corsage dried out? / the one that was packed away / with the empathetic gestures / and the tired old clichés?”

As to where Tavis himself stands, that’s not so clear. Sometimes he’s attuned to the pain of the woman he’s addressing – “Does the future disturb you / now that all you have left is the sound / of a lot of empty talking / and the legs that keep walking?” At other times, a growing frustration renders him cruel. “Can you depend on people, or are you just a misanthrope? / When all your lost love makes it impossible to cope,” he sings, softly, like wet leaves massing up heartlessly in the driveway. “You are a shell of a person, / a portrait of depression.” Patrick’s surge of guitar solo – a fuzzy taillight – pulls up a little swirl of blackening anger; but it hangs in the air, as if unsure of whom to fall on.

It sometimes feels as if Tavis’ own involvement in the story can be called into question. Is that a hint of guilt in his ashy, passive whisper, as if he himself might take some blame for this disaffection? “You write me, I call you, / what more can I say?” he murmurs, a little lamely. “These goddamn words only fill space.” He waxes and wanes, cold and kind, over the course of the song, without ever settling anywhere. Maybe it’s difficult to leave the scene of the accident. Maybe he doesn’t want to. Old debts, never paid? Old wishes that never resolved, but still ache on a chilly day?

The b-side, Vespa, flips the situation here – youth yearnings rather than fading middle-age, and this time it’s Tavis sitting in the role of the person about to slide down the lip of disappointment. The song itself sounds gently rapturous, both motorik and rain-dappled: a blurry cushioned wobble of electric piano, a plastic drum splat and a subliminal driving pulse. Just for the moment the daydream is blooming and Tavis can bask in it. “If I had a Vespa I would drive up to your house, / and I could kiss you on the cheek, / and we’d then hang out for the weekend – / but I don’t.” The road throws up its first little jolt, but Tavis is already smothering himself in the romance. “I can feel your hands, your hands around my waist / Your hair, your hair – it’s all across your face.”

You could get caught up in the fervent dreaminess, until you realise how evasive it is. “We could talk about how I had / changed my life direction / and just moved out of the city to a / place where things are pretty. / I don’t know…” Then you notice that as American road-movie songs go, it’s a pretty soft-edged one. Patrick’s fey touches of fluting synth and Kraftwerk buzzes: mimsy soft drinks; staying well under the speed limit. It’s not that Vespa lacks grand passion. It’s just that it’s been filtered down and compacted, firing up that diffident teetering hope with quiet fire and aching to make it real. “Living in the moment we would forge a life together – / and we’d send our loved ones letters, / every day a little better than before.” But the letdown is coming a little closer all the time, and that haunts the song. Weaving through the chorus is a second, nagging vocal line. “When I think it’s not a possibility / I want to leave, I want to leave.” Then you start wondering whether it’s less of a grand passion, and more of a grand, shy, unspoken crush. An entire world bubble-blown from a single fancy.

Two songs of apartness. Two men divided by most of a continent; linked by an ongoing sympathy, writing subtle bruised-petal songs about how the world often lacks such mutual feeling. There’s probably something more to draw out of that, but I’m not going to try. I have the feeling that if I try to describe it any more it will burst, softly, under my fingers.

T & The Wonder: ‘Corsage’
T & The Wonder (no catalogue number or barcode)
Download-only single
Released: 28th January 2012

Buy it from:
Bandcamp

T & The Wonder online:
Homepage Facebook Twitter Bandcamp Last FM iTunes

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