We Died At Sea-
I Am Drinking Again
The ‘middle-class’ men of Leeds, have the sound of working-class America; in spite of a modest following, they will soon appeal to more than the two polar sects.
‘I Am Drinking Again’
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Class is something, not often mentioned or explored, when pertaining to music…
Everybody is aware of the obvious bastions of the classes. The so-called ‘working-class heroes’, from John Lennon, through to Oasis, have always managed to capture a variegated and diverse sector of society. Their core message and aesthetic, at its core, is proletariat; but the abiding quality and nature of the music, is often not concerned with status or class. The words are never concerned with such meaningless issues. That said, there does seem to be- if not a scientifically-based- linkage between class and quality. In particular, with few exceptions, the most memorable musicians, greatest songs, and acts with the greatest longevity, seems to have emanated from the working, and lower-middle classes. Being in that group myself, I have always attributed the possible disparity in quality, down to the financial and emotional constraints. A lot of the all-time greats; especially the likes of The Beatles, most of the soul and blues greats, and the great majority of the modern troubadours, all have suffered hardship and oppression. From my perspective, if you have little money and are constrained by circumstance and hardship, you become more introverted, and focused upon an escape. For those of whom music is their main passion, the concentration is going to be on your art; your first love. It costs nothing to write and to ‘create’; in fact some of the best moments and most inspired thoughts come when you are down in the depths, or else hell-bent on peaceful insurrection. There is no predisposed correlation as such between classes and talent; it just seems that limitations or constrictions can bring about the most concentrated and brilliant music. As much as anything the key lyrical themes: love, money, life in general, come from a real place and seem much more genuine and convincing. Many of the acts I have been focusing upon over the last few months, predominantly have suffered a hard road to future success, and have said that financial restrictions have been a major hindrance, as well as a key muse. It is perhaps not an equivalency that extends perhaps to acting, or main other sectors of entertainment, nor, unfortunately does it feature highly in the biographies of politicians. It’s not to say, of course, that if you are, or were born under a more fortunate star, then you are going to be fall inferior under the Bayer designation. Many of the greatest and most spellbinding artists have managed to transcend and marginalise class barriers, by projecting themselves are likeable and worthy champions. In the ’90s and ’00s, there have been a greater number of examples of the undiluted and non prejudicial class. The fact that recording and distributing music has become more cost-effective and simpler than it has been ever, is encouraging a lot of less well-off musicians, to lay down their sound; in essence creating an unsubjugated, border-less mass unity, amongst all musicians.
I mention this rather contentious issue, as We Died At Sea, label themselves as ‘middle-class’; yet have a fascinated split personality. For one thing, the bio/tag lines on their Facebook page, quote Dostoevsky. The quote concerns work, and the nature and meaningfulness of it. It speaks volumes about their devotion to, and passion for, music; as well pointing at an augmented intelligence and focus that few contemporaries possess. The Leeds-based boys, underneath the skin and clothing; have an American sensibility, that brings more to mind more Seasick Steve than Tim Rice-Oxley. The musical masquerade has been yielding curiosity and plaudit since 2012, and there is a pastoral charm to their look as well as sound. On the social media official sites, there are floral landscapes, Victorian industrialism, and the inescapable feeling of ease and tranquility. It is with great intrigue that I approached their music; wondering whether I would hear lilting folk guitars and lush vocals, or else a ramble of bluegrass and anthemic Detroit punch. They are quite under-subscribed at the present time, possessing as they do, a small, but respectable handful of fans. They are in the infancy of their developmental process and are taking the first exciting steps. From listening to the group’s work there is no inscrutable noise; no basic level due diligence, and no attitudes towards the notion of ‘playing it safe’. They have a bold and flammable spark to their sound; a positively out of left field surprise to their songs; especially their intros. The band consist of leader, singer, guitarist and accordionist Chris Wallum (whom is also the band’s songwriter); violin and mandolin star Rob Bromley; double bass maestro Filipe Petry; and percussion and vox accomplice Francis Watson. Together they are We Died At Sea; a band that I am confident, will be a festival staple of the future.
‘I Am Drinking Again’ is, what the band calls, a ‘2-track album’. Whether that is pinpoint, or whether you see it as a double-A side, or mini E.P., one thing is for sure: it is fascinating. I have listened to the 2nd track of the two, called ‘Wolves’. That song is a lush and swelling beauty, or gorgeous strings, beautiful vocals, and lyrics filled with vivid and frightening imagery. Please do check it out. I felt compelled to review the title track, as from the opening notes, I was captured. The intro. catches you quite unaware. It is not your standard acoustic guitar strum-cum-predictable linear crawl. It begins with Mediterranean strings. With some Greek wild sway; Spanish seductiveness and Italian passion, it is up and dancing; a mix of sounds are unleashed, with what sounds like a washboard being used as percussion. The final seconds of the intro have a flavour of France to them; it is romantic and invigorating. One imagines that the sound of America will be arriving some time a little later, as there is nothing but European brilliance and innovation within the opening seconds. When the vocal arrives, the voice that produces it is like none I have heard before. Ordinarily I can pick a voice apart, and assigned various tones, sighs and screams to other artists; essentially be a bit of a pedantic arsehole. When inking up my pen, ready to take the review in the direction of Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan, Neil Young, or any other U.S. grassroots pioneer, I was a little stumped. There is a pleasing everyman appeal to the voice; it has some familiar tones but is its own man. The words tell of drunken days and nights, and scenes of drinking “to pass waking hours away”. The dark and open words are never delivered in any sort of morbid or depressed way. There is a matter-of-fact delivery, that suggests whether the words are autobiographical or not, perhaps our author has come to peace with things. The sense of emotional balance and restraint is enforced by the musical backing, which never lets up its charm and drive. It is a melodic and memorable dance; close to a waltz with a bit more of a spring to its step. The chorus arrives, and reminded me slightly of ‘Up The Bracket’-era The Libertines, only less scuzzy and more mannered. It is a song that is destined to soundtrack a huge future film; maybe something of a gangster film- it has that flair and edge to it. It is quite an unnerving experience when listening to the music and vocals, and seeing them juxtaposed against lines like “If I die tonight”, and “I shall not fear the end of the rope/Or the ghost”. The protagonist seems to have a relaxed attitude to his mortality; whether that is the drink adding confidence, or taking away his soul, is tricky to fully understand. Whether too, the merrier and more jubilant background is intended as accompaniment to a drunken anthem, or offset the bleaker central mood, is also a tough one to call, but one suspects that the band are keen to create a fun skin to offset a darker core; in a sense making a more complete and pleasing whole. If you tie a weary and depressing musical coda then the overall effect is going to be exhausting. Leonard Cohen, Elliot Smith and Nick Drake could do it expertly, but in a modern climate, if you can match poetic and thought-provoking words with a romantic and invigorating backing, you are going to unite a lot of casual voters, and pull off quite a rare and neat trick. There is a hint of the brothers Finn to the vocal performance. There is a similar pattern and familiarity in the choruses, and a hint of eponymous album Crowded House when Wallum and Watson combine. As the second verse is unveiled and settles in, the sense of infectious sway cannot be denied. “So we laid coins on her eyes/To send her from life to new life” may not be up there with ‘Hey Jude’ or ‘Karma Police’ in terms of chant-able anthems, but damn it all if you don’t sing along after the 2nd or 3rd listen. The entire song, and especially the repetition of the chorus (combined with wordless s chorusing), creates a woozy and dizzy charm, that will seep into your veins and intoxicate you.
If you hear America, Europe or Australia in the song, let me know, as was caught between the three. It has a working-class appeal and conviction, yet is educated and confident. The group and tight and compelling from start to finish and I was impressed not only by the sharp and unhinged nature of the music, which I swear is probably the catchiest and most memorable example I have heard all year; but by every component. The lyrics are intense and mordant, yet are delivered in a way that will not pull you down or cause a tear to form; instead will sweep you along. Regardless of proclamations of social classification or any preconceived notions you may have, there is no denying that We Died At Sea are going to make huge waves (pun unintended). They have an appeal and professionalism that is impressive so early on, and although they have a small number of songs to their name, they will build upon it, and I cannot wait to hear the results. In a year that has provided a little too much generic acoustic music, too many similar guitar bands, and too few real noteworthy artists, it is refreshing that there are groups out there that can enliven and amaze. They may tell of tales of drunken mess and chaos, but there is no sobering alarm. They are a band for the people. I cannot wait for their next step…
And hope that we hear a lot more from them, in the future.