Oliver Cobbin reviews the latest music in ‘New Releases Round-Up’, featuring ‘Beacon’ by James Neilson’ and ‘The Ecstasy of Freedom’ by ‘Faith in Casinos’.
James Neilson – Beacon:
The first release to be critiqued in this week’s ‘New Releases Round-Up’ is ‘Beacon’, the début EP by singer-songwriter ‘James Neilson’. He kicks thing off with ‘What Would We Do’, a soft opener, perfect for any low-key summer movie – probably starring Robert Pattinson or whoever the new ‘thing’ is these days. Accompanied by only a scratchy guitar part and some stable drumming, Neilson’s voice gets to take centre-stage and showcases his soft, yet emotive, tone. Some light double-tracking on his vocals strengthens the performance and ‘What Would We Do’ breezes by nicely. If I had one minor criticism, it would be that the guitar goes slightly out of time with the drums at points. This certainly doesn’t detract from the song in the grand scheme of things and ‘What Would We Do’ is a good introduction into Neilson’s world. ‘You Chose Fame’ carries on the singer-songwriter pattern established on the first song, but sees Neilson perform a more syncopated style of singing in the chorus. I’m getting ‘Babylon’-era David Gray vibes on this song, yet Neilson’s voice is somewhere between the resonant nature of ‘Jeff Buckley’ and the sweet tones of ‘Belle & Sebastian’.
A slight gripe I have with the EP so far, is the lack of interesting arrangements. I’m not expecting a 32-piece orchestral backing admittedly, but some light lead guitar/piano could elevate these songs. It doesn’t help that the first two start with an almost identical rhythm and unfortunately the third offering, ‘Coast’, is no different. Thankfully though, a bit more effort has been put into the production of this song, which features a duet with fellow singer ‘Megan Hitchcock’, resulting in a fuller sounding piece. Their voices overlap nicely, with Megan’s slightly-husky voice complementing James’ soft tones well, resulting in a 1960s-folk-pop-esque number. Although I enjoyed the first two songs, the lack of arrangement made them feel a bit ‘undercooked’ for me, whereas ‘Coast’ presents a subdued setting amidst light accompaniment, making it my highlight of ‘Beacon’. Track #4 is ‘Love to Hate’, which picks up the pace a little with a propulsive drum beat and some simple, but effective, lead guitar – that’s more like it James! ‘Because you’re hypnotised, by those lullabies’ is also the kind of lyrical couplet I like to hear and Neilson sings with a lot of conviction. There’s an accompanying music video too for those who long for the glory days of MTV. ‘Beacon’ shuts its musical doors with ‘Settle’, but why it’s labelled as a demo I don’t know, it’s no more ‘lo-fi’ than the other songs. Regardless of labels, James is accompanied by just his guitar again, but the stripped back of the nature works well as a closer and James hits some really sweet notes throughout the song.
It would be too easy to compare James Neilson to Ed Sheeran and, in my opinion, James has the nicer voice. It’s emotive, clear and whilst I would have preferred to hear some diversity in the arrangements, it’s James’ voice that carries the EP. His songs are simple, yet melodic and would really brighten up many-a-café across the country.
Faith in Casinos – The Ecstasy of Freedom:
Second on the ‘New Releases Round-Up’ billing is ‘The Ecstasy of Freedom’ by Lincolnshire-based trio ‘Faith in Casinos’. Their début album kicks off with ‘Trapped Inside’, a stomping opener, full of Adam Perkins’ crunching guitars and Aaron Smith’s soaring lead vocals – which have a slight Matt Bellamy tone to them. Some light soloing from Adam is accompanied by what sounds like an ‘e-bow’, giving off some ethereal sustained notes. All of this is solidified by Terry Johnston’s compact backbeat, making this a sure-fire hit with rockers worldwide. ‘Drifters’ and ‘Sedative’ showcase the band’s knack for incorporating sing-along choruses into their progressive compositions. The former sees Aaron dip into his falsetto range, which is nicely set against the bass-centric mix of the song, with the outro having those ever-shifting time signatures that made ‘Rush’ so famous. The latter has a slight nod to ‘Iron Maiden’, with its harmonised guitars and heavy rock drum rolls, whilst the overlapping voices of ‘Sedative’ show their Muse influence as well as the trio’s impressive vocal range.
‘Unreality’ is once again very Muse-esque, with a nod to their recent LP ‘Drones’, whilst ‘Peace’ features an angular guitar straight out of a 1950’s horror movie and is sure to please any ‘Queens of the Stone Age’ fan. ‘Faith in Casinos’ take things down a notch with ‘Enemy Inside Myself’ and the chorus effects pedals are brought out for good measure. Although dreamy in the intro, the distortion is warmly welcomed for the latter half, which sees Aaron’s voice soar like the eagle that is Thom Yorke. Mr. Burns gets a long-overdue nod on track 7, ‘Release the Hounds’, which features the dirtiest bassline since Geddy Lee & his ‘Rickenbacker 4001’ wallowed in the Glastonbury mud – must check the factuality of that sweeping statement. Closing number, ‘Worlds Away’, is a classic slow-burner, just what you need as a final album statement. All hell breaks loose at the 3-minute mark though and each member gets to show off their musical proficiency. Adam Perkins lets out a rip-roaring guitar solo, Aaron goes for a note only meant for castratos and Terry Johnston unleashes his inner Neil Peart.
With one final guitar strum, ‘The Ecstasy of Freedom’ bows its final bow. ‘Faith in Casinos’ should be proud of this piece of art and over the course of 11 songs, prove that progressive rock isn’t necessarily code for bejewelled flautists playing their ‘dad rock opera’. Headbangers of the world unite! If you like what you’ve heard, then dip into their back catalogue which includes their 2016 EP, ‘Trapped Inside’.
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