Radiant Hex is available from:
The E.P., Quiet Confidence is available on March 10th. Sample E.P. tracks can be accessed via:
The Liverpool-based trio have been crafting beautiful codas for some time now. They have captured the hearts of the media (and fans alike). After the merest of investigations, you will be hooked…
LAST week was, for me, a tumultuous and eventful one I guess…
I have quit my job of eight months, and pushed myself- at the not-so-tender age of 30- to finally stop making myself angry. I got to a point last Tuesday where I finally ‘snapped’: where clarity overtook my mind. It was not so much an epiphany, more a wake-up for me. Working (as I do) in I.T., you get accustomed to the daily routine of being yelled at; insulted; dealing with snarky and stochastic wastes of humans. I would feel somewhat calmer if I were a doctor: if it were patients giving me this kind of disrespect. Medical issues and life-and-death situations can overtake one’s senses and reduce them to scared children. I can understand if someone were to unload on me- not be happy or like it, but take it on the chin- as this is the only arena I feel this kind o behaviour is even tolerable. I have overheard conversations where people are on the phone to a bank (or building society), and are yelling at the person on the other phone; because their P.I.N. number has not been mailed; that money hasn’t transferred; when statements are late. I always shrug and shake my head, as it demonstrates the worst traits of human beings. I appreciate that certain life situations are undesirable, and no one likes to feel stressed or anxious, but you know what: join my world. Because of very neurological and physiological issues, I am anxious and stressed all of the time. My life will not be long; it will not be happy; it will not be anywhere approaching easy. With this burden swinging around my neck like a dead horse, I don’t life vicariously through others, nor would I give a complete stranger a hard time for something insignificant. It must have been 10am last Tuesday that this thought struck my mind. Having just been roundly eviscerated by some foreign-speaking half-wit, my brain had had enough. I looked down and was not dressed in a doctor’s coat, and realised how stupid my situation was. I hate rude people or anyone whom even raises their voice over something stupid, and felt that it was not worth the depression. Knowing that I am a month away from being released into the wild has left me feeling relaxed. There is fear for sure, I can tell you. I will miss the people I work with more than anything- but not the job itself. The last time I left a job I didn’t find work for over a year- which saw my penniless and ashamed. This time around, I feel that I will be okay (as much as I can ever be). Mandating myself to never do anything in I.T., I have formulated a game plan. It involves moving to London- or near enough- forming a band, working in bar jobs or reviewing music (to make money); putting songs together, and working hard to be better and more ambitious than any other songwriter out there. I realise that being a 30-year-old means I have arrived late to the party, but I can handle my drink, and will be making up for loss time. There are romantic and ‘real life’ ambitions, too, but I shall mention them later. The point I am making is this: too many people work for money alone and miss out on the chance of taking risks. In my mind there is a woman I cannot stop thinking of; a song I cannot shake from my brain; half a dozen ‘must-dos’ that I feel are long-overdue. If I go for them and fail, then at least I gave it a shot. Music offers an arena for the try-ers; the ambitious people whom live in the moment- and for those looking to placate any inner demons and loneliness. I will be making some tentative steps into the amphitheatre of music; looking about wide-eyed and seeing whom I can recruit to help me out. When looking about for inspirations, for surrogate musical parents; as well as seeking out the best and brightest acts, I always train my ear to new music. Before I discuss the point further, I want to raise one particular element: the lack of fascination in music. Last night I watched Troy– someone I have come to appreciate a little more. I often feel that he is a more confident and chatty version of Dynamo (Magician Impossible), and never really saw the point of televising ‘magic’. Real magic is, of course, an oxymoron. Everything can be explained. There are no such things as miracles or fate; or anything so absurd. It is the fact that people watching cannot explain what they have seen make people like Troy so watchable. No doubt, he has spent many (obsessive) years honing and making sure that his illusions and slights-of-hand seem ‘magic’- rather than just clever and seemless. It is good to see people s jaws drop when he disappears or creates huge feats, which got my thinking: do we ever feel that way about music. I am focusing on a brilliant band today, and one whom will dove-tail my two thesis quite neatly. I think that same visceral synesthesia is harder to come by. The voice will be the facet that is most likely to elicit the greatest awe in people. I feel that we have witnessed the most staggering voices. If you consider the singers whom could drop jaws such as Michael Jackson, Antony Hegarty, Kate Bush etc., they possess voices which are unique and untenable. The best our generation can hope for is excellence rather than majesty. Unless you have a voice that marries and galvanises all the greatest voices of all-time (and blends in and out of them), then (unless you are easily impressed and short-sighted) you have to work harder- to get a huge reaction. Music is the most splendid, universal and un-prejudicing art form in the world. It inspires and mesmerised simple folk like me to transcend their rather workaday lives and change everything. Getting lost inside songs and notes is a proximal reaction that can see a life-changing change of events take place: fulfilment of dreams, finding love, connecting with humans; becoming happier and making everything in life better. In that sense, music has so much more potential to amaze than any second-rate form of entertainment. It may take a little more (non-literal) shouting to grab the attentions of the fickle and unfocused music-buying public, yet the rewards are bountiful. We are all lucky enough to have witnessed (and remembered) the greatest songwriters and singers to have lived. Their legacy and archives remain readily-available and act as a Socratic teaching guide. It may seem like a lot of tumescent rambling, yet this week has cemented more confidence in me than any other- which leads me onto…
My featured band is a study of how to make an impression- and keep your attention. Here are just a few nice things that the media has said about Ninetails:
“A propulsive display of robust slickness.” FAKE DIY
“Slept And Did Not Sleep exhibits a wandering will to reach out to the leftfield ether without ever quite leaving behind the sense that, should the fancy take them, they could produce a stone cold brain lodger oozing both intelligence and pop nous.” THE QUIETUS
“Labels, terminology and clever references cease to matter when you’re dealing with music of this intelligence, heart and bizarrely refracted beauty.” DROWNED IN SOUND
The trios consist of Ling, Phil and Jordan, and they are based out of Liverpool. I hope they forgive me opening statements, but they are partly responsible for my ascendancy. This is a trio of men whom have been getting some rather adoring pats on the back as-of-late. The Guardian featured them as their ‘Band of the day’ recently; Mary-Ann Hobs featured one of their tracks on her BBC 6 Music shows- and the list goes on. Publications such as The Skinny, Dummy and Generator have all lend their patronage to Ninetails: all trying to define and summarise a band on the cusp of something truly awesome. Whether my- by comparison- meagre journalism will feature on their social media sites is to be seen, yet I am proud to toss my ring into the hat (of the adoring watchers). Before I get down to their music and history, I am fascinated by a number of aspects (of the group). One thing that new acts- and established ones- negate gleefully is the importance of image. I don’t mean fashion or uniformity; merely making sure your E.P. (or album) covers are as striking as possible. It is probably something that seduces the obsessive part of my brain, but too few acts take time to create anything eye-catching. Maybe music is become digitalized and less tangible, yet it is paramount that we do not lose this aspect. I- as well as everyone- has seen too many acts producing (album/E.P.) covers with a self-portrait or meaningless design- which leaves me bored. The axiom and cliché of never judging books by its cover cannot be divulged here: if I am left cold by the outer skin, why bother investigating the flesh within? Unless you have gigantic music balls of steel and can woo the birds from the trees, then getting your cover art right is as important as making sure the music is on-point. Bravo to Ninetails, whom greet my cynical tongue with aplomb. The cover to Quiet Confidence is a symphony of autumnal beauty and pastoral elegance. It juxtaposes the title itself, whilst soothing your mind and soul. Before a note has been investigate, I am already fascinated and curious about our trio. It is not a coincidence that so many effusive reviews have been launched at the band’s feet. The group have an innate understanding of context and content: how to project the most force with the slightest touches. Their name itself- Ninetails- unleashing a hailstorm of images; in my mind the cat o’nine tails comes to mind. Etymologically-speaking that device of punishment has been used for centuries and is still used in several Asian countries. It is an instrument that can be seen as a disciplinary aid; a method torture or- in certain hands- a sexual aid (so I’ve heard!). When you match refracted pulchritude amongst vibrant imagery, then the initial effect is mesmeric. Before the music has been digested, the boys have already attracted unlikely sects of support: art-lovers, intellectuals and the curious alike. The music itself is the boldest charm and some of the most alarming and urgent uttering you will hear (I shall expand on this after a slight digression). Our pioneering three-piece have their base in Liverpool, which is, axiomatically-speaking a motherland for music. The likes of The Beatles have ensured the city’s synonymous reputation, and the streets and sights of this historic location is producing a hungry swathe of fresh-faced musicians. The boys have seen their stake rise since the release of Sleep And Did Not Sleep. That five-track collection was abound with nuance and scintillation: the sound of a band intent on hegemony and dominance. That (five-track) E.P. boasted an illustrious and stunning cover design (simple yet wonderful), and the track listing was a riot of literary imagery (Mama Aniseed spiked my brain hardest). The E.P.’s progency demonstratively showed a band with a confidence and rare intelligence. The media were quick to highlight how diverse and affecting the music was: it sucks you in and overwhelms. There has been some transition since their last release, yet the boys have galvanised and strengthened their core: Quiet Confidence is the result. It is not officially released, yet the buzz and compliments that it has garnered are not unjust. I shall elongate my analysis of the E.P. later in this review, yet- before I investigate my chosen track- I will finish with one point: originality. In the couple of years-or-so I have been reviewing new acts, I have witnessed few whom I can truly class as ‘unique’. There is always a semblance of another’s voice within the tapestry; an underlying hint of something familiar and well-worn- at the very worst many are contented to repackage an exisiting act. It is hard to make music that is free from any familiar D.N.A. (I am petrified of this stumbling block when I come to record). Rare does not have to equate to divisive or niche: you can create original music and be elemental in tandem. Our Scousers have a nouse for this; they elicited tiny sparks of relatable sounds, yet offer up a palette that is new and bold. Their future success will not be augmented by happenstance or market forces- they will endure and remain due to their intelligence and talent. I am looking forward to a new release just so I can see what song titles they come up with; what the cover art will look like- and of course what sounds they unveil. I shall get down to business…
A slight rumble and crackle begins the travels of Radiant Hex. Chimes and bells are entered into the mix, creating an initial sense of serenity- as well as brooding. A swelling vocal rush then comes into force and lasts but a matter of seconds. The band keep the song ever-changing and evolving; they introduce a sound sample of brief moment, before unveiling a new one after a few seconds. The listener does not have time to settle in and predict what is coming next as you witness a scenic, atmospheric and symphonic within the first 20 seconds. From this point, we hear a backwards-playing sample that reminds me of some of Revolver’s finest moments (Tomorrow Never Knows for instance). There is a sense of ’60s Pyschedelia as well as Prog. Rock’s finest within this movement, and it is one that is tantalising in its brevity. As you are listening to this passage, your head gets sucked in and it has an odd intoxicating and psychotropic effect- in fact the song up until this point does things to your mind that are usually reserved for alcohol and hallucinogenic drugs. I loved the way that ’60s and ’70s music is blended with modern-day urgency: the result is a parabolic head-trip that makes you smile and gawk at the same time. At the 0:50 second mark, a female vocal is introduced. It is wordless and reversed, and augments the trippy and detached sensation. After this moment has passed, vocal duties are to the fore- this time in forward motion. The song is, according to Balber: “(something that) recounts an exorcism. The energumen was said to have had spiritual ‘serpents’ wrapped around his spine. I wanted to convey a feeling of suspension and anti-gravity, evoking bright, bold washes of colour. I imagined moments that were overtly ecstatic juxtaposed with zones of slow-motion and stillness“. This sense of ‘anti-gravity’ is evidenced within the vocal line, which has a weightlessness that is hard to ignore. The lyrics are- unsurprisingly- poetic, cryptic as well as stark: “Cryptic tongues for Christ, shot ten round/I WORSHIPED THROUGH MY VIRTUES, THROUGH MY SINS/An ancient HEX, a sacred text/Like serpents covering my bones but covered in dust/I’m inviting/Radiant HEX like serpents covering my bones but covered in light/I’m inviting you/Like serpents covering my bones but covered in light“. Whilst our hero speaks of snakes and distorted religiosity, an exhilarating sonic backing provides a perfect counterpart. As well as having Psychedelic undertones, there is also a little Trip-Hop and ’90s Trance on display (Portishead, Massive Attack etc.). The soulful vocal is a juxtaposition; yet not the only one. The entire track, from its title through to its composition provides differing and diverse strokes; each melting and sparring with one another. Percussive rumbles do their bidding with reversed samples; jazzy and soulful edges compliment ghostly echoes. As our hero steps from the mic., a spectral and detached female vocal arrives. Parping trumpet blasts summon up a renewed energy, as the cosmic sonic whirl continues. Again Radiant Hex continues to move, feed and hunt- all the while stretching your brain in every direction possible. The tone becomes more celebratory and uplifting as the Jazz-infused brass becomes more linear, focused and connecting: it grooves and sways. Just as you feel you are settling in for a sojourn of tranquility and Groove Armada-esque bliss, once more events turn towards our hero: talking of ‘serpents’ and bones being covered. Elliptical and entrancing piano give way to another round of wordless chorus-ing as the song begins to reach its end. With a final snippet of music-in-reversed there is a tiny crackle and we come to the conclusion. Over the course of several minutes the band have managed to cover so much ground without losing concision and focus. The track is one that is synonymous with the overall sound: the effect that all the diverse snippets and styles have when commingled. The vocals and lyrics are memorable- yet brief- and unleash a myriad of strange scenes and gravity over a short period. It is the overall effect of all the components that makes Radiant Hex so terrific. By the end of the song you are still trying to soak in what has been heard; you listen through again, trying to keep up with everything that is offered up. By the nth listen, you are still compelled to re-visit in case you have missed anything. Such is the nature of the song that is begs multiple listens; by my fifth of sixth time investigating I am still going to keep returning. Few songs I have heard this year have left such an indelible impression.
Ninetails were foreign and unborn- to me- a few weeks ago. Having found the trio by serendipitous chance, I have been hooked and compelled ever since. There are so many new acts out there, that is hard for any to really build a solid and unwavering fan base. Music-lovers love shiny things; their minds and ears can often stray listlessly from act to act: in the vein search of ‘perfection’. Too few new acts achieve a sense of healthy mortality: so many supersede and capitulate after a few albums. There is an inherent sense of disposable nature with each new act, and it is vital that lessons are learned from the most durable. Our heroic trio have formulated the equations for success, and they will be making records for many years to come. Jordan (Balber)- whom is the E.P.’s songwriter- described Quiet Confidence, thus: “… a collection of songs reflecting on the concept of devotion… [It] aims to evoke the feeling of having multiple epiphanies, each of which you quickly forget and try desperately to remember again, like attempting to recall the details of a dream… I wanted the record to juxtapose very raw, earnest, human expression with thick, ecstatic walls of sound. This explains the dry, exposed vocals and the densely layered instrumentation surrounding them.” The E.P. will see many new fans turned on by the band’s unique blend of song. At the moment their social media representation is not befitting of a group of such quality, so I hope that there the next few weeks will see this corrected. On the evidence of Radiant Hex, I have been compelled to dive into the E.P. as a whole. An Aria begins with a swelling of variant sound and sensations, before opening up like an oyster: revealing myriad stages and treasures. Sinn Djinn has a more sedate and longue-themed opening salvo, which then mutates into a hypnotic and stormy affair. My brief words cannot do justice to those tracks. They are multi-layered wonders crammed with sound effects, samples and variations- often an entire album’s worth of potential is stuffed into a single track. The E.P. offers up even more wonder and scenery, and is music that appeals to everyone. The Ninetails experience is not one that discriminates or appeals to the wisest and most astute listener. Because of the depth and breadth of the music, these are songs that can draw in every sector and clan. The Guardian have investigated the E.P., and described Quiet Confidence/Pure Utopia in these terms: “… a lovely cacophony of birds tweeting, bells ringing and water falling. Really lovely. The rehabilitation of prog continues apace”. They go on to describe the E.P. and the band’s useage of sound: “… a fondness for intricate time signatures, complex structures, vibraphones, guitars (acoustic, distorted, reversed, looped with a DL4), MIDI organs, bass guitar, sub-bass, idiosyncratic samples and concrète textures (samples of lion roars, trumpet freakouts, recordings of a deck of cards falling on a table, keys, coins and cans rattling, the bells at the Liverpool Anglican Cathedral ringing, dogs barking, cans of beer being opened in slow motion), as well as organic and processed percussion… and you’ve got Quiet Confidence, issued on Monday by Pond Life, the label run by former Talk Talk manager Keith Aspden (previous releases include Talk Talk’s Spirit of Eden and Laughing Stock and Mark Hollis’ self-titled solo album)”. If you investigate their official website and read their reviews, they all pretty much paint the picture of a band at the peak of their powers. They manage to incorporate the greatest aspects of the best bands of the last couple of decades, whilst presenting head-spinning gems that demand repeated listens. In a scene where celebrity and attention-seeking seem to be holy orders, it is refreshing to see a band whom are in love with music and the concerting their efforts to make theirs the best possible. There is no histrionics nor any wild ululations: just a trio ensuring that their music reaches as many people as possible. I started out by stating what a disruptive and changeable week it has been for me- one that has made me re-evaluate my life. My focus has turned towards music and fulfilment of personal ambition, and when events turn this way, the immediate desire changes: finding a safe paragon. I have been invested in making my own music for years, and having ‘discovered’ Ninetails, I have been filled with confidence and renewed purpose. I have not heard the likes, and not since The Avalanches released their 2000 debut, have I experienced music with so much joy and pain; so many different shades and shifts within a single song. Those Australian cut-and-paste experts assembled their ensembles from vinyls and older artists, whereas our Liverpool trio conjure up a comparable majesty with original strokes alone. I implore everyone to not only seek out their new E.P., but also retrospectively listen to their embryonic steps. You can see a natural progression, yet there is a startling sense of quality, straight from the off. I am not sure what the group are planning over the next few months- touring aside- but I am sure they will be resting a little. I cannot wait to see what they come up with, whether it is a fully fledged album, another E.P.- or a single. Few acts have caught my attention and caused so much near-hysteria in me, so believe me when I say:
NO act this year will get near to bettering them.