Oliver Cobbin reviews the latest EPs in ‘New Releases Round-Up’, featuring ‘Cameron Sinclair Harris’ and ‘susan’.
Cameron Sinclair Harris – Grey Matter:
First up on ‘New Releases Round-Up’ is, ‘Grey Matter’, the debut EP by local singer-songwriter ‘Cameron Sinclair Harris’. Opening with ‘Brain Cells’, an energetic acoustic-based stomper, we’re introduced into Cameron’s musical world, full of harmonies and handclaps. The scratchy guitar part, straight out of 1965, is the perfect accompaniment for his lyrically complex, intricate rhymes, which culminate in the chorus hook; ‘where did all my brain cells go? I had them all not long ago’ – the most striking bit of ‘self-worth questioning’ since Black Francis sang ‘Where is my Mind?’ for ‘Pixies’ almost 30 years ago. ‘Storms’ follows on and presents Cameron in a more subdued setting, with a delicately picked acoustic guitar being a nice focal point. His daring lyrical prowess hasn’t wavered though, with ‘Storms’ possibly being the first song to ever include the word ‘perambulates’ *note to self – check the factuality of that statement. The folk vibes are strong on this one and Cameron harmonises well with himself, whilst the finger-picked guitar displays some slightly Eastern influences. The percussion jangles away in the background and ‘Storms’ ends on a harmonious note. The intro to ‘Good Luck’ is a nice segue from the previous song but soon changes its tact, with an abrasive strumming technique from Mr. Sinclair Harris showing his angry side. Some slight dissonance in the chords adds a nice flavour to this cut and the electric guitar sounds like it’s coming from a 1970’s transistor radio, showing a good production choice. The slightly lo-fi nature of this recording works well for Cameron’s voice on this one, which takes on the slightly nasal tone of ‘Green Day’s’ Billie Joe Armstrong and the fragile nature of Elliott Smith.
‘As a Ghost’ starts off as another low-key ballad, with some subtle vocal harmonies and light bass guitar. Cameron’s lyrics continue the paranoia that the previous offerings laid out for him, whilst the instrumentation gradually builds during each verse. Richard Harrison’s unleashes his inner tribal warrior with the drums, which are an ever-constant presence waiting to be let loose. After a mid-section chant, Cameron reaches for the uppermost notes in his vocal range and leaves us on a final sustained note, which is as passionate as it is exasperated. ‘As a Ghost’ is a haunting track and works very well as a penultimate statement for ‘Grey Matter’. The EP closes on a slight romantic note, albeit a cynical take on it. ‘Insert Your Name Here’ features some impressive guitar work, but its Cameron’s sardonic lyrical take on modern romance that steals the show. ‘Valentine’s day is just a commercial scam’ might sound like a bitter statement if taken on its own, but when inserted into a song like ‘Insert Your Name Here’, which features couplets like ‘I’m often alone but I’m never lonely ‘, it almost sounds satirical – like a slogan waiting to be printed onto an ironic t-shirt.
The EP’s closing line ‘across the dark grey matter, you’ll find us’ provides the title for Cameron’s debut offering and signals the end to a very impressive collection of songs. It’s essential listening for anyone bemoaning the lack of modern folk in the current musical climate and a great example of witty lyricism in an age of tepid statements.
susan – acne:
Second on the ‘New Releases Round-Up’ billing this week is, ‘acne’, the forthcoming debut EP by ‘susan’. Lack of capital letters aside, opening track and preview single ‘what’s the time mr wolf’ is a industrial-influenced piece, which sees susan (real name Chester Krikken) deal with some surreal lyrics; ‘you’re the vinegar and I’m the bee’. Playground rhyme it’s not, instead a heavy opening statement on an EP that, in susan’s words, is an exercise in ‘self-discovery during youth and how the people around you guide you to the highs and the lows’. The dichotomy of his mumbled vocals with the surrounding bombast makes for a very unique sound and is followed on ‘kinda’, which is another slice of atmospheric cacophony and drawling vocals. The haunting sound comes as a result of susan experimenting ‘with the equipment that was available to me at the age of 17-18, and what I could do with the skills I harboured at the time’. The sound is matched by the striking cover, designed by Adam Illingworth and Megan Bradbury, which sees a balaclava-clad individual alone in a field – don’t we all feel like that sometimes?
‘you’ve been sick on your hand (intro)’ is the first part in the two-song closer, but I don’t really understand why it’s necessary. It sounds like a weird interlude that would’ve worked on a full length album, but seems unnecessary here on a 4-track EP. The weirder musical features are susan’s selling point admittedly but where the choice worked well on other songs, here it seems random and comes across as an unfinished ditty. It segues nicely into ‘chewing cheeks (outro)’ though, which is another terrifying kaleidoscope of dissonant noises and abstract vocal melodies. Some crashing piano chords are accompanied by a loop that sounds like a cow bell, treated with enough reverb to sound sinister. It could be the breakthrough the instrument needs though, if it wants to shake off the synonymous relationship it has with ‘Don’t Fear the Reaper’. It’s an odd note to end ‘acne’ on, but then again the previous tracks have hardly been mainstream bangers.
I enjoyed the first two cuts, as they managed to integrate the weirder elements that the last two displayed, whilst offering a proper song structure. I wish there’d be maybe one/two more tracks like this to showcase susan’s unique style, as it feels a little undercooked with just 2 full tracks and 2 snippets. ‘acne’ is a self-produced effort, with help from Rob Baldock, and is scheduled for release August 15th, on all the usual streaming services. With recent spots at ‘Rough Trade’, as well as our very own ‘Wire & Wool’, ‘susan’ is certainly making an impression on the Nottingham music scene. If you have time to attend a gig, do so!
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