We Died At Sea
Memphis Flu is available from:
The E.P. The La La Bird is available to pre-order via:
Northern English hokum, blues and mud stomping; infectious as it is unusual, will linger long in the mind- and blow away the winter blues.
TODAY I am breaking slightly from the parable of my usual discourse…
To focus on something a little different. I am going to start with a familiar and comfortable rant. Last night saw the beginning of a new series of The Voice. It is this annual competition that promotes, encourages and celebrates Britain’s blandest, most pointless and least original singers possibly imagine. Forced to watch the opening 10 minutes last night, I was staggered about how self-indulgent and pointless it all was. Aside from the fact that the judges entered the show singing their own songs, and promoting their own music; it seemed that ever contestant nauseatingly was intent on singing one of the judge’s songs- again publishing their own material. Each version of each song was depressingly unspectacular and ridiculous- the entire competition seems like a karaoke show for those on the brink of alcoholism. For those mentally and spirituality sober, the whole thing offers nothing more than an excuse to laugh at morons. I am sure there are people that enjoy the show, but are not people who I care to spend time with or will ever really understand. My point is, is that- in spite of plummeting viewing figures- this type of mindless dross is still offered up by broadcasters, and is seen as a genuine alternative in music. For the life of my I cannot remember of a time where the reality T.V. show route offered up anything of any note or distinction- or provided a contestant with a long-term career. I am hoping that these types of shows will die brutally over the next couple of years, as music should hold no room or regard for anyone as plastic, talentless or asinine. My overall point is that the type of music proferred by these contestants is taking time and attention away from some genuingly wonderful groups and artists. Over the course of my reviews, I have witnessed and summarised some terrific acts; wonderfully diverse and interesting sounds- giving me renewed hope of a renaissance amongst the traditional order. On a non-presidential basis, new music has flourished under some rather undemocratic terms. Too many generic and bubble wrap artists have emerged and been celebrated- whilst those thoroughly worthy have been passed over. It has been on my mind a lot, as to how the north of England produces such fascinating and diverse acts. In addition to my praise of Cuckoo Records and the kind of wonders they are representing, it is worth noting that Yorkshire seems to be leading the way. I know that there are a lot of ordinary and cliched bands and solo artists plying their trade (in Yorkshire), yet in terms of sheer multifariousness- this county have something special about them. I have mentioned that there seems to be a fond regard for retro electro/swing: artists such as Little Violet are doing this genre proud. Interesting blues rock movements are being made, from Detroit-via-Wakefield. Across Bradfodr and its envrions, witty pop and brassy soul music is being created- joy and the upbeat seem to be the order of the day. I have been stunned by just how ambitious and forward-thinking musicians have been, and how different they are to most overs. When you think of London, there seems to be less fascination and joy when it comes to the sound of new music. The north-west seems to be synonymous with rock and indie and has less mobility. The fresh air and the bonhomie spirit of its citizens has led to a reciprocal influence upon the musicians of Yorkshire. It is not just British sounds- old and new- that are being affectionately portrayed, yet foreign flavours are also being investigated. It is the music and majesties of the U.S. that are being given fondest affection. As well as blues rock, older blues sounds are being renewed, updated and adapted. It takes a lot of bravery to break away from the pulpit of the familiar, in order to aim for something more unusual and rarer. Revivalists and the noble are causing re-appropriation and reinvigorating good-time, Ragtime motions. I suppose that bands such as Mumford and Sons have attempted to make music that has its heart lodged in the Deep South and mountain ranges of the Ozarks. In this case, I find their music to be too bland and grating, and not good enough to really appeal to genuine music-lovers. This particular brand of music is very much focused on fun and merriment, and implores the listener to get up and stomp their feet. Because it is quite a rare sound to hear these days, it is difficult for new artists to popularise it- and make it appeal to a somewhat disjointed and narrowly-focused generation. New music is in need of an overhaul and definitely needs a smile across its lips, as there is still a tendency for new musicians to err towards the introspective or maudlin. Even our indie rock and heavy rock still leans towards angry and anxious shores, so it is vital that clement and invigorating sensations are celebrated and rewarded. This year is going to see a rise of new music, and will see a multitude of individualised acts- all polling for votes and plaudits. Today’s subjects are a group that could well blow away the winter cobwebs; solid of tensile strength; suffocating of intention…
The Leeds-based band We Died At Sea are a group I have reviewed once before. I summarised their song I Am Drinking Again back in April (https://musicmusingsandsuch.wordpress.com/2013/04/25/we-died-at-sea-i-am-drinking-again-track-review/); impressed by its fresh and embracing sound, and the sheer contradictions that I encountered within. These Leeds-based boys are middle-class chaps consisting of our heroes, below:
Chris Wallum – Voice, Guitar
Rob Bromley – Violin, Voice
Felipe Petry – Double Bass, Voice
Fran Watson – Percussion, Kazoo, Voice
I can say with great confidence, that I have not heard anything similar to what We Died At Sea are presenting to the world. It is a veritable breeze of fresh air that is capable of inspiring other acts to follow in their footsteps. When I reviewed the lads last time I around, I stated the following: “… 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 plaudits 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.” It is true that there is a vein of intellectualism and high-minded regard in the We Died At Sea camp, yet that is not to say that the music they are making is disingenuous. It is unusual that a band such as this would make the music they do. When one listens to their plaintive strums and rambunctious merriment, you would probably see them as hirsute, toothless good ol’ boys; filthy of clothing, yellow of teeth banjos and fiddles in hand as they dance around a fire. If that is where your mind is taken when listening to the music, then do bit it, but our Yorkshire boys are having the time of their lives. The past year has seen success and adulation come their way. Just recently their song Wolves was seen as one of the best tracks of 2013 by Ear To The Ground Music. The band have had a busy year of touring and recording, and have enlivened and excited their native fans with unabated energy. All of the impetus and creativity that they have summoned over the year has led to the release of their E.P., The La La Bird. It is all sold-out on C.D., yet readily-available on BandCamp, still. The four-track release offers up many surprises and gems, and sees the group building upon their previous templates- whilst giving tantalising glimpses as to what their future music could sound like. The E.P. has its heart set in a particular time; a particular enviroment and a vidi landscape, and the Yorkshire men take your mind there, paint vivid and fascinating pictures, and leave the listener with a big smile on their faces. At the moment, the quartet have a solid and supportive following across social media, yet I feel that they deserve a lot more attention. They are daring to be different, and are pushing the boundaries and expectations of music- going down avenues that not many other have done so. The E.P. is a testament to the raw talent and intoxicating sound of a group of men whom may have their bodies ensconced within Leeds; yet have their souls and minds in a part and era of the U.S. that may seem foreign to many. If new music- and the music scene in general- is to trulty diversify and offer up real treasure, then bands such as We Died At Sea should be applauded and kept in close regard. Possible the wisest thing you can do this month, is to snap up their E.P., as it is the perfect antidote to the stormy and tempestuous weather have been experiencing. It will make you forget about things for a while; and provide some much-needed sunshine.
Beginning with a frenetic and scratchy guitar swathe, Memphis Flu builds its momentum early on. It is a brief refrain, as the vocal kicks in; accompanied by a heady sonic rush. When assessing the vocal nature, one is not reminded of any other singer. Wallum has a voice that is very much his own, yet has some essences of the old, great U.S. singers of the ’20s and ’30s- as well as some modern influence. As our hero sings of “Memphis flu at your door” affecting rich and poor, the band are unified in song, as their vocals blend to augment the merriment. In spite of the lyrical themes, the band are infused with energy and good-time spirit. The percussion is steady yet propulsive, as it backs up the vocal layers and keeps the spine firm. As the horrors of southern influenza stalk our hero, he implores: “I don’t want to die“. The band make sure that the song is infused with singalong potential, as you find you cannot help but sing and cheer with the guys, as the survey the scenes and sights. The first verse itself is built with staunch and vivid imagery, and sets the tone out straight away:
“Nineteen hundred twenty nine
Pretty women, men are dying
Call a nurse, call a doctor, call a priest
The Memphis Flu is at your door
And it will surely kill the rich and poor
If we don’t turn away from our shame“
Your mind is steeped and filled with scenes and smells, and there is a tangible element to the group’s storytelling. If you are unfamiliar with the Ragtime and Western Swing sounds that are presented, then it may take several listens for the song to reveal its charms. Some people I know are familiar with the Ozark Mountain Daredevils; the soundtrack to O Brother, Where Art Thou? as well as Seasick Steve. There are feint D.N.A. strands detectable, and fans of those artists and works will find some familiarity. In a real sense, though, there is modernity and urgency within the song. The pace is fast and frenetic, as the vocals are delivered with a breathless aplomb. The playing is tight and impassioned, as the band combine beautifully. Consideration and breaks are provided between the verses, allowing the infectious music codas to take effect. You can imagine a merry hoedown taking place, people dancing, and a good time had by all. I like the way that the darker or more morbid subject matter is accompanied by juxtaposing sonic flair. The pace and nature of the composition is energetic and upbeat, and you almost forget and pass by what is being said. As the song continues its path, more sights and sensations are presented:
“Nurse came to my bed
And she dropped my medicine
Told my partner, “Hey Johnny! Go get him some more!”
Charm, wit and tradition are laced within the lyrics, as you cannot help but to picture the scenes, and wonder what became of our hero. The Memphis flu is clearly a relentless and cruel master, yet it has not dampened the spirits of We Died At Sea. The vocal has a distortion and quality to it that reminds me of Jake Bugg, Jack White and Alex Turner. Some native and homegrown accentuation is evident, yet there is also a flavour of U.S. blues: the melting together adds weight and conviction to the song. The band themselves are continuously impressive as they keep the energy, sparks and kick constant; never letting the mood drop, and ensuring that your mood is always lifted. Backed by his comrades and brothers-in-arms, our protagonist is coming to the end of his sage:
“Hospital I lie
And I know I’ll surely die
And I don’t want to die
The Memphis Flu is at your door“
As the song ends, and the final line is delivered (“If we don’t turn away from our shame“), we come to the end, and are left wondering what became of our hero and his band. It is well worth watching the video for the song, which is a black-and-white video depicting dancing men and women (looking as though the film was shot in the ’20s or ’30s), accompanied by pictographic representations of the lyrics. In spite of the fact that the song is under 2:30, it makes its impact and leaves clear impressions. You cannot help but walk away invigorated- as well as curious to hear more songs from the intrepid band. The themes of Memphis Flu are unique and potent, and it is not a subject you will hear in any other songs- or from any other acts- this year. The Leeds outfit are a quartet steeped in tradition and vintage regard, but also have a love of the modern-day local scene. The way they marry these disparate factions together creates a wonderful little song, that is a fitting swan song to the E.P.
As much as I have derided the talent show wannabes and faithful, it is important that truly great and original music is given its due. We Died At Sea are still in their infancy, yet have a clear idea of where they want to be, and who they want to appeal to. Their sounds are not meant for a small clique; it is music that is designed for the masses. Their E.P. is a terrific achievement and provided nuance, memorability as well as an excuse to have a bit of a jig. The next year will see the Leeds boys transcend beyond their localised paradigm, and seep into the mainstream. There is going to be a heady demand for their special blend of song, and I would not be shocked to see them make moves throughout the U.K.- as well as further afield. It is axiomatic that the U.S. will be familiar with the sound they pervade, and it seems as though they might find themselves playing throughout the U.S.A.- from the bars of Texas; across New York and California. In that sense, the likes of Australia, Europe and South America will embrace the music and welcome the guys into their hearts. I hope that more music is imminent, as the boys have struck a rich vein. Last year saw a multitude of bands come through that said pretty much what had already been said. I witnessed many indie and rock bands come through, each of whom seemed to lack the necessary bite, originality and drive that many were demanding. When I reviewed the band’s 2-track album I Am Drinking Again, there were definitely mordent and saddened tones to be found within. Wolves was a lush and orchestral sway that was packed with gorgeous imagery and stirring scenes. There has been a bit of a shift with regards to sound, yet We Died At Sea have kept their identity intact and expanded upon their palette. I am not sure whether a fully-fledged album or another E.P. is in the minds, yet it will be fascinating to see what the lads are planning. The La La Bird E.P. is out on 1st February, and there will no doubt be great demand for live performances from the quartet. They are supporting The Stray Birds when they arrive from America, as well as making their own moves. I am not sure what it is about Yorkshire, but this county has been in my focus for a long while now. Whether the likes of Cuckoo Records will snapping at their heels it to be seen, yet I would not be shocked. There is a lot of innovation and bravery to be seen in Yorkshire, and it is the mixing point for the most potent, interesting and original sounds of the moment. This year will need to see a revitalised implore from its participants, so if anyone is short of inspiration and focus, they should be setting their sites towards the north. The sounds of the ’20s and ’30s have not been dabbled with too much, and I am not too sure why. On the evidence of Memphis Flu, as well as The La La Bird E.P., there is plenty of room in the market for our heroes. I shall leave you with a thought and sermon, concerning the necessities and demands of the music-lover. I speak from experience and frustrated desire, when I say that we need to see a bit more fun and excitement in music. The reason that I love swing and electro acts like Little Violet and Rose and the Howling North, is that these artists provide kick, energy and invigoration in all of their songs. There is still a tendency towards the flat and listless in new music, and although sensitivity and introspection very much have their place, I have heard little evidence to suggest that there is going to be any sort of sea change or mobility. We Died At Sea have the impetus and energy to strive and achieve, and need the support and patronage to assist them. They have a great following within their native climbs, but deserve wider appreciation and analysis. Forget about the rain and wind; close the curtains, and spin the four-track blitzes with The La La Bird. The boys may be a new name to the minds of many reading this, yet I hope that they will not be strangers for too long now. They love ragtime and blues; they are a band on the rise and have the potential to be festival mainstays…
AND that’s no hokum.
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