Hauntingly-named; atmosphere-driven; solemnity proffering from Tones and Cartwright’s moniker: intrigue-aplenty guaranteed.
Murder Cries is available at:
The album A Small Murmuration is available from July 8th, but can be streamed at:
MY discourse will not stray too far from the nature of bands (tomorrow…
it will be back in full force). Today, moreover, I am curiously hooked on the idea of duos. It is somewhat of a rarity to see a two-piece making music together: well, in this country at least. Across the U.S., and especially in Europe, the idea is not so foreign: there seems to be a boy-girl compositional set-up. It is a bit of a surprise- to me at least- that there are not more examples of the form. If we consider the current likes of She & Him- a U.S. duo fronted be actor Zoeey Deschanel- the formulae is producing some wonderful chemistry: critics and fans are fully on-board with the two-piece’s unique brand of ’60s/’70s power/sunshine pop revitalisation. Deschanel has- as well as superseding expectations about actors-turned-musicians- proven herself to be a talented and merit-worthy pen smith: able to blend swooning melodies and sharp and impressive lyrics. Any more members (to She & Him) would spoil the mood; too many cooks and all; three’s a crowd etc… I feel that the burden for the solo artist is quite great: they have to shoulder all of the creative effort themselves; the existence can be quite a lonely one too. By pairing with a like-minded musician, a creative paramour is created that can herald some superb and focused results. Simon and Garfunkel are perhaps the most obvious example of a duo whom go to prove my point. Aside from their break-up; the music that the two produced during their career remains some of the best there’s ever been: it is the combination of the two’s individual talents that make it such a wonderful sound. Modern examples such as Outkast are keeping the flame burning in support of the duo; yet it seems that-aside from the U.S.-heavy examples- there are not many current U.K. examples. I have been puzzling my mind as to why there are so few duos in this country. I have reviewed one or two over the last few months- including Bradford-based twosome Issimo- yet tend to notice that music acts are divided between two defined sects: the solo artist and the band (predominantly 4 or 5-piece). The band market is bursting at the seams at the moment; hardly able to contain its own weight- and we find that there is a lack of quality control. For all of the Indie bands out there (yep- I am off on my daily rant) it is hard really to distinguish the great from the sub-par: it is a meritocratic scene that tends to focus too heavily on specific genres. I feel that being in a band (with 3 or 4 other members) there are inherent goods and risks. On the plus side, there are plenty of creative participants: each of whom can offer their own ideas and suggest different sounds and avenues. There is little emphasis on one particular members; it seems that the creative and day-to-day weight is shared amongst each member- which means that there is not an intimidating spotlight shining in one particular person’s eyes. The negatives can be multitudinous. For a start, relationships can break down. Even the most tight-knit and bonded band can suffer entropy and obsolescence. At the same time; going into an over-crowded market means that you have to work that much harder to make an impression- no matter how good your sounds are. I do worry slightly with regards to music in general (a bold statement I know). There seems to be too much predictability and preconceived ideas when it comes to new musicians. Solo artists- on the whole- fall into various categories. For the most part the sound and flavour of a solo offering is either folk/acoustic-based; or else their mandates lean towards pop, soul and the like. Certain voices are heralded and celebrated; some solo artist’s lyrics are championed: sometimes you get lucky and the two are married together. I am tending to notice that few surprises are to be discovered, when one investigates a new artist/band. If a voice is striking, then the emotional range or overall ambition is lacking; if a band has a terrific sound, then their lead is charisma-lite. With a wealth and abundance of technology and previous sounds to borrow from (and be inspired by), it should be easier now- as much as any time- to foster ambition and grand designs. The fact that there have not been many challenges to the all-time greatest tracks begs one thought: do we have the ambition and talent in the U.K.? I have found that the best and most exciting sounds have been coming from foreign lands. Between the U.S. (and North America) and Europe (particularly the Nordic nations), a great variation and mobility has been offered up. I have been surprised by the pick ‘n’ mix offerings that one can experience. Sharp and tangy electronic sounds nestle alongside fresh and ripe bubble-gum disco. If you dig deeper you can find flavoursome and delicious Indie-pop treats, as well as darker-shaded Gothic artists. From the likes of Open 8, NoNoNo, Say Lou Lou; through to the majestic Kate Bush-esque sounds of Anna von Hausswolff, the nation of Sweden has been showing the way with regards to diversification and surprise- many of their best artists are duos (Say Lou Lou for example). I have long said that U.K. artists need to take inspiration from European examples: not copying their example, but learning from their authoritative and far-reaching music. I find that, when eyes are trained further to unfamiliar (but fantastic) shores; new inspiration and a fresh creative lease is available: this can lead to a whole wave of pioneering and variegated new acts. You may wonder why I am making this particular point (today)?
Having been in existence for the last three years, our featured duo are making the right sort of impressions. Aside from the fact that there is a glaring lack of two-piece artists, I was fascinated by a lot of the (in this context) small details. Their ethereal and thought-diverting name suggests something quite otherworldly and ephemeral (although the music itself is far from ephemeral). The history and derivation behind Snow Ghosts is a fascinating one. Ross Tones is a Bristol boy (although he lives in London at the moment), and performs as Throwing Snow. In a modern music climate, where a great majority of music can have some predictable and homogenised roots, the sounds that Tones proffers, offers up myriad delight. Bristol has been synonymous with primal, dark and fascinating sounds for many a year now. The legends that are Portishead call the place home. It is that trip-hop/experimental outfit whom- to my mind- are one of the best bands of the past 30 years. Even their most recent album (Third) displays as much of the innovation, bravery and surprise as their early work did. The sounds contained within Third goes to show how much fascination and wonder can be created, by being bold and adventurous- the act shows no signs of slowing, and I hope that another L.P. is imminent. It is Tones’s trip-hop passion and conviction that has marked him out as a local idol: he has garnered many impressive plaudits from fans and critics alike. As part of Throwing Ghosts, Tones weaved dub step, hip hop and boogie: something that you cannot say about too many acts. I know that there are many ‘pioneers’ and multifaceted artists at the moment; yet I find that they are still underground talent: how many music magazines and publications regularly promote trip-hop, experimental and Portishead-esque artists? Tones combined with Augustus Ghosts’ Siren Hannah Cartwright: the two combined formed Snow Ghosts; and the rest, as they say is something-or-other. Many music magazines have noticed that there are a few acts and artists whom have the words ‘snow’ and ‘ghost(s)’ in their name- but one can guarantee that none of them sound quite like our talented duo. The duo have unleashed their debut album A Small Murmuration: a collection that promises a host of wide-ranging genres, sounds and styles. The duo claimed that they wanted the album to sound as cohesive and together as possible (rather than a sprawling The White Album-type L.P.). As much as I hate musicians (and people in general) describing their music/experiences as a ‘journey’ (experience does not have a geographical or travelogue nature; and it is a word/phrase that is cloying, cliché and a little overly self-important). Regardless, the duo’s musical summation certainly has the appearance of a crystallisation; a transmogrification or beautiful coming-together: perhaps referring to them as musical paramours is more apt (or more pretentious perhaps?). The duo appear in monochrome, sepia and black-and-white photos (their band palette and uniform consists of light and darkness); appearing as heroes of a new wave of experimental and prodigious new sounds. The gloomy and down-turned expressions (that is sometimes projected in some of their shots) is in keeping with the Portishead/Massive Attack trip-hop-cum-experimental mould: the sounds are quite sombre and moody (at times) so one would not be constantly beaming and grinning. In spite of the great qualities and majesty each member had with their respective outfits; it is when they combine that their ambitions and potentiality is augmented, galvanised and emphasised. Although the album is only available to stream at the moment (see the link at the top of this review); it will be fully-fledged and readily-available as of Monday (July 8th). Spin magazine has recently profiled the duo; having witnessed and absorbed the album, they can attest to (as can I), it’s interchangeable and ever-mobile manifestations: ranging from dynamic drum and bass; crepuscular fireside parables; through to charming and lasciviously-driven folk movements. As part of Augustus Ghost (still in business and going strong) Hannah Cartwright comes across as a modern pin-up/idol. With an intelligent mind, agile creative and stunning talent; she blends her beautiful pipes to the moody and intoxicating aromas of her music. Being somewhat good-looking (read: gorgeous and alluring) she extrapolates those merits and aspects; blends them into Snow Ghost’s bubbling boiling pot, and lends some very crucial aspects. Cartwright has an understanding and intuition when it comes to atmosphere. From the macabre; esoteric; sleep-deprived and lustre-filled, she is a multi-talented composer- one whom brings her knowledge and past experiences to the new venture. Bristol local legend Ross Tones has a weight of conviction- born from his impressive back catalogue- and binds them together with Cartwright’s shades. When the two combine- regardless of the differences and divergences from their pasts and present- a strange and beautiful love affair is created. There is a keen affection for one another- both musically and personally- and this kinship and mutuality is what gives the debut L.P. such a conviction, tightness and spectral quality. The duo have spent two years honing and perfecting their songs: pragmatically digging down and hunkering into work; making sure that the final product is the best it can be. As much as I have been exhausted as-of-late by wanderlust- searching fervently for a great new act to become passionate about- I have found solace and redemptive light, in the form of Snow Ghosts. I am not the only one whom has been seduced and startled by the pair’s dynamic sagacity. On Twitter and Facebook, followers and coming thick and fast; glowing and lust-filled comments and praise has been heaped at their feet- something that will triplicate and evolve as the album arrives. Before I get down to examining and wrestling with Murder Cries, a few more points are worth bearing in mind. The first (negative-positive juxtapose) issue concerns recent reviews (of the album). One of the reasons that a lot of acts are passed over or dislocated, is because of the lack of critical awareness: reviewers whom are narrow-minded and miss the point entirely. Some reviewers have stated that the L.P.’s organs are too dysfunctional and distorted: dark and alienating to your average listener. Although these reviews have- by-and-large- been intelligent and cohesive, they have focused on some (unwarranted) negatives. Some have offered that the album is too humourless (how many albums does one laugh their arse off to constantly?); claiming that it is a tad morbid and dangerous. The point of the album is to project a slightly eerie and resplendent ghostliness; but this is a gleaming talisman in the bigger picture: the quality is consistently brilliant; the sounds relentless ubiquitous. As much as anything, the biggest plus has been given little credence: the songs have a great range as well as cross-pollination. The Guardian (as much as I disagree with a lot of their reviewers) hit the nail on the head. Paul Lester noticed the L.P.’s hints of folk metal- a connation of polemic styles- as well as stentorian and impressive sounds. It was noted that the variegation, wide-ranging motifs as well as variegated styles- when fused together and nestling alongside one another- creates a harmonious (strangely) and sumptuous whole. Many people will not fall in love with the album (and duo) because it is not ‘their cup of tea’; yet criticising an act for showing ambition and being adventurous is a cardinal sin- and something that is causing a lot of perturbation in me. Anyway… before I get to the song (I know- sorry!) I will summarise my biggest pleasured discovery: how the two-piece manage to evoke spirit and semblances from past masters. With their codified majesties the duo elicit sensations from ’90s idols such as Massive Attack and Portishead (the Bristol connection); as well as current beaus such as Atoms for Peace. Tones recently completed a supporting spot with the aforementioned Atoms’ (as part of Throwing Snow): there are evocations and colours of the Radiohead man’s ethereal sidewinders within the work of Snow Ghosts. I am always on the lookout for songs (and albums/E.P.s) that can reintegrate and reinvigorate sounds and slices of previous decades- the ’90s especially- and mix them with modern-day energies. A Small Murmuration is awash with such explorative potency, and it is an album filled with fascinating steps and moves: each song has a different gravity and set of patterns that inspires and overwhelms. Untangle Me is gaining a lot of effusive investigation at the moment. It is a dark paen sporting some lustrous and spine-chilling string, a towering and burgeoning sonic force and a towering ambition. As much as I love that track, it is the recent single Murder Cries, that has been on my mind.
Beginning with a swelling and orchestral electric rise, Murder Cries contains the briefest of intros.: whipping up a stirring rush before being joined by a vocal proclaiming: “We wander through the darkness of the days”. Cartwright’s voice is authoritative and strong; showing some weighty conviction as well as emotional undertone. As our heroine implores and strikes; letting the words burrow beneath your skin (and into your brain); Tones builds up a forbidding and atmospheric mood piece: complete with twitchy and anxiety-ridden electronic interjection: both subtle and stirring. As our hero takes control of the sonic black smoke- containing traces of Third‘s aural fascinations- our Siren-esque heroine continues to campaign; speaking (to an unnamed central figure) about dark nights; grave digging and a deathly and malefic coda: “So give your fingers what they crave”. With tales of blooming blood-red flowers, stabs and sparks of fire are unveiled: electronic strangeness and fascination continue on as a symphonic sway purges and retreats- it pulses and teases the listener with gleeful abandon. Our heroine has a unique and striking voice- controlled yet filled with nuance and passionate conviction- with subtle blends of the Grand Mistress of electronic/trip-hop music past: Beth Gibbons. The two have the same haunting evocations and alluring layers, and Cartwright has a way of making the most forbidding and deathly scenes seem almost common-place. With powerful summons and forceful intent, our heroine lets it be known: “You’ll find me where the crows fly”; her voice emotional and dusky- she seems to be speaking to a past lover, but there is mystery in the lyrics that hint that inspiration may be more literal and less autobiographical. Violin swells and keep the energy levels high, as our heroine’s voice is doubled-up and dueted: layers of sultry mesmerisation are presented; pulling you under the song’s dark spell. Cartwright steps out into the spotlight, her back straight, her voice true: talking of shadowy and windswept scenes. An anonymous female figure is tear-stained (our heroine continually asks: “Why does she cry?”); wracked with pain and sadness “Where the crows fly”. In the way that the vocal spar with one another; echo and reverberate with each other, a layered and hypnotic mood is created. Before long the compelling vocal line gets eerier and more distant, as Tones’ influence comes to the forefront. The violin, electronics and spacious crawl that has been supporting Cartwright’s sermons, now comes more to the fore. Whereas the lines and parables (before) set mood and were campaigning in the background, now they come to the fore as an explosion is heralded. Our hero unleashes a fist-pummelling and insatiable electronic percussive thud: it is like an iron giant punching the ground, such is its weight and impression. Our heroine builds endless scenery; filled with Gothic imagery, murders of crows and storm-addled landscapes. The jittering and menacing machine gun fire continues unabated; Tones whips up an insatiable and pulverising smash that barely relents: combines with Cartwright’s voice the effect is quite startling and effecting. There are touches of Massive Attack’s Mezzanine clout: similar weight and majesty is all present here (without sounding too similar to the collective’s past work). The percussive and electronic gravity pulls you in every direction, gets into your head and pulls your brain in ways that it shouldn’t be allowed to. As much as there are feint touches of Massive Attack’s influence, parts Portishead (circa. Dummy) lurk beneath the surface. The sound is very much modern and essentially fresh, yet the duo have managed to evoke the sound of ’90s trip hop; fusing this together with drum and bass influences: it is an incredible combination that gives the track a conviction and originality that is not often seen in the current scene. As the sound of Satan reacting after missing his train to work end (there are probably more eloquent similes; but that’ll do), things are calmed as our heroine is back in full focus; her vocal lines intertwined and possessed. I was truck by the way that the song was structured, and how its unique composition heralds big returns. Few modern bands (or duos/solo acts) spend a lot of consideration, with regards to unique structure. Snow Ghosts mix a combination of quiet-loud music dynamics (the unnerving drum pound contrasting with more seductive violin) together with vocal and lyrical consideration (fewer different words are elicited, but pertinent lines are repeated for maximum effect; the voice is constantly engaging but not too overwrought); that makes the song so special. Our duo play their respective parts superbly and each bring something very unique (and diverse) to the table. Tones is a master of mood-setting and sonic sting. He mixes classical and romantic edges (especially in the initial stages) as well as drum and bass violence (mostly from the halfway mark onwards): fusing them together and creating a sublimation. There is no sense of predictability or obviousness in his presentations and composition. Just when you think you have the next move all figured out; something wild and startling is pulled out- causing you to be dragged and torn asunder; recollecting your thoughts as you are. Not to go on too persistently about Bristol masters Portishead, but comparables can be drawn. When the percussive assault arrives, there is evocation of Machine Gun/We Carry On (Third); as well as the heavier moments of their debut (and self-titled album). Cartwright similarly has all of the hallmarks and qualities of the Bristol outfit’s front-woman: the alluring and smoky side; the stronger and more powerful edge; a similar conviction and ear for a great lyric. Between the two, a great range is covered. Each of them brings a distinct and essential element to the fold; which makes Murder Cries so potent. It is a track that has garnered a great deal of praise and committed honesty, and clearly makes a big impression (to those whom hear it).
With A Small Murmuration a few days away (and available to stream), it is going to be a busy few weeks for the duo. I have listened to the album in full, and can attest to the strengths and talents of the endeavouring twosome. So much range and diversity nestles within, and it is a restless and varied collection of songs. Cartwright and Tones may have come from different pastures and make different sounds; yet when they come together it works perfectly. There is a clear affection and affinity between the two, and one of the album’s big strengths is the conviction and passion evident in every track. Big publications such as The Guardian have latched onto the joys and layers of the L.P., as well as the brilliance of Murder Cries. The track earns its stripes with its bold proclamations, heady mixtures and incredible ambition. It may not come as a shock to the duo themselves, but it is quite an unexpected sound in the U.K. Whereas there are drum and bass, electronic and trip hop artists working today, few make it into your thoughts, and fewer still manage to mix so many different genres and styles together. I have been stating for a long time, as just how stifled and stuck the band market is at the moment. For every original and worthy new band that come along, they have to fight their way through a sea of similar-sounding and homogenous acts. In terms of solo talent, there is a problem whereby acts rarely surprise: if the voice is good, the lyrics aren’t; if the words are good, the voice is not great- rarely do you ever hear of something whom ticks all the boxes and sticks in the memory. I started by saying how baffled I was at the lack of duos in the U.K. market. It seems like perfectly good sense and wise to form a twosome: in the case of Snow Ghosts, they have proved what results can arise. It is going to be interesting to see where the duo go from here: another L.P.; an E.P. or interim single? They will have plenty of options following on from A Small Murmuration: but it is crucial to let the album come out, and be shared and listened to as much as possible- and seeing how it is perceived. I am confident that a mass of new supporters will be attuned to Snow Ghost’s sounds: each one hungry to hear as much as possible from the two. I hope that once the L.P. is released that they stick together and make a lot more music together (as opposed to returning to their past lives). Individually they had extremely viable and prosperous careers; making music that gained a lot of attention and support. It is when they join together that their individual talents are soldered and reinforced. The duo have hit upon a bit of a goldmine. By employing sounds of the ’90s and modern-day; pulling in some past masters and current idols; they have achieved the best of both worlds: sounding fresh and essential, but steeped in the authoritative strengths and majesties of the past legends. Time will tell whether any similar-sounding or similarly-ambitious duos will form- in the midst of A Small Murmuration’s release- but one thing is for sure: plenty of new talent should take note and inspiration. On Monday the intriguing duo will unveil their L.P. to the world; wait to see what responses they get; and decide where they go from here. The two should have no fear, as response and feedback will be effusive and positive; demands will be high (with gig demands being a very real future-prospect). And as for the future itself? For our heroic twosome…
IT will be exciting indeed.