TRACK REVIEW: South of the City- Up in the Sky



South of the City



Up in the Sky






Up in the Sky is available at:

March 9th, 2016



Surrey, U.K.


A lot of my recent reviews have centered around artists that…

are established; making their next steps into music.  It is nice seeing bands/acts that survive the hazards music throws- financial costs and media fickleness- and keep producing music.  Perhaps a bigger treat is seeing new artists form.  My featured arc- who I shall come to very soon- is just beginning their music career and are dipping their toes into the water.  Thinking about my review subjects gets me reflecting on local music- its necessity and importance- in addition to malleability and social media; British Country music and its popularity.  I am based out of Surrey- not my first choice for location; needs must- be one of the (few) advantages of living around there is the variation of music.  Granted, the proximity to London always helps; Surrey has its own sound and way of working.  The music scene here is split into a number of different sectors.  You have the music school-produced artists of A.C.M. (the Academy of Contemporary Music, Guildford) where our young hopefuls go to hone their craft.  After reviewing Dannii Barnes- a vocal student at the academy- and her hook-up with Ace (of Skunk Anansie) I was pleasantly surprised.  I have never really followed A.C.M. and the music coming from there, assuming it would all sound the same:  The boys moulded to sound like Ed Sheeran/James Bay; the girls Adele/whoever is riding high in the charts.  That may be the case of many students there- consciously creating chart-ready musicians who fit into preconceived holes- but there are artists (like Barnes) with exceptional originality and talent.  Away from the music school crowds, there are the under-the-radar bands:  The type you might see doing the pub circuits and just entering the music world.  Being affiliated with (Guildford locations) The Stoke– where I work- and Boileroom:  I get to see a lot of local bands seduce the local crowds.  Although, again, there are some bands that deliberately replicate others- if I hear another Foo Fighters-sounding band I might just blow my head off- there are those that take care to sound like they want to remain in music.  In fact, Surrey is showcasing some of the most explosive and variegated groups currently working.  The third sector of musicians- that are local to Surrey- are the solo acts:  Those who are independent and often self-funded.  Including the likes of Chess- former A.C.M. alumni Francesca Galea- they are probably the majority share.  I will be reviewing Chess’ debut album soon- the hotly-anticipated, 1869– and it will be exciting to witness.  She is among the most passionate, and intense performers around- hard and catchy beats back huge, emotive vocals.

My point is- there is one lurking inside the hay bale- is how rich a local music scene can be.  I cannot speak for other areas of the country:  Surrey has a wide range of musicians- and often gets overlooked in the wider scene- that should be studied very closely.  A lot of these acts (from Surrey) will be moving to London- to get greater exposure- and will be radio names of the future.  South of the City are a band making their sapling steps right now.  Based in the Guildford area- and liable to be playing some of the town’s most recognisable venues- the quartet is a mysterious quantity.  Just looking at them- the photos on social media- mix brooding/cool shots with some live performance snaps- they are working hard, even this early on.  Although little biographical information is shown- that will come with time and development- the band are still forming, essentially.  In their earliest days- when the guys came through last year- they were called Contraband.  Whilst a cool name- and something I could have predicted- they found a few other acts with said moniker.  Naming a band is always a hard thing:  You can happen upon a name (you think is perfect) to find plenty of others with the same thought process.  Renaming themselves South of the City- a more intriguing name, for sure- the four-piece are looking for a second guitarist- to flesh their sound out and give their music more possibility.  Hungry and passionate; you can tell South of the City have plenty of passion.  The adaptability they have shown- changing their name and keeping engaged with their fan-base- is only matched by their dedicated gigs and output.  Few bands- that are in their stage of progression- have that much material sorted; they tend not to gig too much.  South of the City are performing locally and ensuring people know who they are.  Having released some material to SoundCloud:  There is an album mooted for later this year.  That amazes me somewhat:  I do not see many bands think about an album this early in a career.  It just goes to show how much faith and hunger there is in camp.  South of the City are a Country band- a ‘deluxe’ one, no less- and actually, look like a band.  I am not sure what the backstories are- if the members have played with other groups prior to their formation- but there is a professionalism about South of the City that is very impressive.  You do not hear a lot of Country bands on national radio- well, Radio 2 , perhaps- and there is still that assumption:  This is music reserved for a slightly ‘older’ audience.  Last year, The Shires became the first British Country band to crack the U.K.’s top ten album charts.  It might sound amazing, but a true fact:  Country music is seen as a niche, American genre.  The band was aghast at the realisation:  Wondering why this (a U.K. act being in the top 10) hadn’t occurred before.  Knowing the great Country acts out there- including Surrey-born Hannah Dorman- it is baffling.  I feel people have cliché expectations of Country music:  It will be Stetson-wearing middle-aged crooners singing about heartbreak.  True, artists like that exist yet Country music is so much deeper and richer than that- with some exceptional artists.  South of the City subvert expectations and are capable of transcending the local underground and making waves:  In time, they could well make a dent on the mainstream.  The Shires started modestly, to be fair.  Crissie Rhodes began touring pubs as a solo artist.  Ben Earle put an advert on social media asking for Country singers:  Wondering whether there were any out there.  When the duo came together, the rest was history.  Their success is inspiring other acts and showing how good (British) Country can be.  It is no longer a U.S.-owned genre.  Up in the Sky is new from South of the City and shows plenty of promise:  I cannot wait to see what their album contains.  With so many predictable Indie-Rock bands emerging at the moment:  We need more bands like South of the City.

It is this point in a review (ordinarily) that I look at a band/artist’s progression and past work.  Given the fact South of the City is a fledgling band, there is a limited supply of material to be found.  Trains and Planes has been picking up positivity and not hard to see why.  The song- which is likely to feature on their album- shows determination, driving passion and a clear-set sound.  There is that southern twang- a conscious move to give the music more authority and naturalness- from the vocal that gives the track plenty of heart and emotion.  Looking at separated lovers- a man boarding a plane to foreign anonymity- his sweetheart remains behind.  Wanting to be remembered- wherever he goes; do not forget her- the lyrics paint some vivid scenes and compel the listener to project their own series of events.  Poker Town has a grittier edge and bouncy chorus.  Another U.S.-indebted sound- nodding to the legends of Country- there is an air accessibility and memorability in the music.  The vocal is another impressively strong and bold delivery.  The consistent energy and hop- the band come together wonderfully- ensure the song stays in the head and gets the listener singing along.  A song that is destined to get the crowds united in voice- and the bodies dancing along- we see more traditional Country themes being explored.  Our heroine has her heart broken- staying in Poker Town with a “handful of aces”- poker simile and romantic strife marry together with ease.  South of the City are at their most relaxed and breezy here; showing what a range and mobility they have.  Move On is a stomper that takes Country and filters it through a prism of Rock:  There is plenty of granite among the tender-hearted professions.  Directed at a hero/heroine; our lead recommended moving on and going somewhere new- singing a “new song” and being somewhere different.  If something is “holding you back” you need to “find yourself some space”.  It is a wise and relatable song that will relate to a lot of listeners.  Another vibrant jam from the band:  Surely another track that will enliven the festival crowds.  Whilst the band are strong and compelling when joined together; they are stunning when going solo.  Whether a passionate and lustful vocal delivery or scintillating guitar solo:  You get chances to see individual talent come through.  A lot of Country bands- the ones I have witnessed- are too defined and predictable with their song structures.  Tracks tend to stick to verse-chorus-verse and rarely break the mould.  While South of the City have discipline; they allow for some surprise and unexpectedness.  Rock guitar solos sit with catchy, effusive Pop chorusing:  You get a lot of other flavours inside their Country sound.   Because of this, the group is liable to win a lot of younger fans.  Country music has (in the past at least) been more directed towards a certain audience- usually slightly older to be fair.  South of the City ensures mainstream touches go into a pure Country core.  Like The Shires; there is a blend of Pop and Rock:  Foot-stomping choruses and more tender moments sit alongside one another.   I cannot wait to hear Poker Town and what the Surrey band can come up with.  In terms of production, the album would benefit from something a little polished- not too much but just enough to bring all their elements into focus.  If they can mix in some more tender/reflective moments- to balance out the energetic jams- then that will give (the album) some diversity and depth.  The band showed how confident they are when going up-tempo:  They could easily captivate when showing sensitivity and heartwarming vulnerability.  In terms of their overall sound and themes; their hearts are lodged in the U.S. south.  You get that U.S. drawl from the vocal and stories that deal with dislocated lovers and desert-dwelling cheats; packing up your troubles and finding somewhere more hospitable and inspiring.  It would be good to see the guys mix British sensibility within their U.S. sounds.  Maybe some homegrown themes/ideals- show some patriotism- would bring their wit and national pride to the fore.  If they can get the track order spot-on- not too top-heavy; ensure the record ends with a bang- they could well have a hit on their hands.  Given the fact they have been together such a short time:  The authority and quality on display is impressive indeed.  Leading the charge- a song that sounds like a ready-made album opener- is Up in the Sky.

I mentioned Up in the Sky could be an album opener.  The reason behind this theory is exemplified in (the song’s) introduction.  Rolling thunder and tender guitar strings evoke something primal and widescreen.  The song’s title comes to mind straight away:  A turbulent, colourful sky ignites and teases.  In the opening stages, you can hear how distinct and tight the band is.  The performances are exceptional whilst the production is surprisingly polished and clean.  Leading the listener in- building intentions and atmosphere- the song builds in stages.  From the thunder and rain, you get curlicued guitars that are surprisingly sumptuous and engaging.  Ensuring every listener immerses themselves inside the song:  South of the City ensure the song is never pastiche; there are high-drama and originality from a band that has an exceptional chemistry.  The raw and Blues-y guitars lead to heavenly backing vocals- our heroine is like a spirit in the sky; calling from above.  Kicking the song up a gear:  Those guitars unite with a thudding percussion and bellicose intention.  Making sure the song swaggers with cool-edged intention- a cowboy strutting into a local saloon- the band keeps things tight and electric.  Those moody and storm-weathered opening moments have passed and the lightning is striking.  It is hard to compare South of the City with any other act- when listening to Up in the Sky– but that is a distinguishing factor.  It is clear the temperature’s rising:  “It’s going crazy like the fourth of July”.  Whether there are fireworks in the sky or an ensuing conflict on the ground:  Something hard and heavy is about to go down.  Wild West drama is a theme that creeps into South of the City’s music:  They always keep a part of their consciousness in the heat of the desert.  As our heroine’s voice becomes more intense and pressing; the vivid lyrics reveal new insight.  “Hold onto your mumma’s skirt” sees the band members combine their voices- and add to the emotion and drama- which gets you guessing and interpreting.  Cards are kept close to the chest in the early phases.  The heat and spark of the song are evident, but I was curious to know what inspired the song.  Maybe a work of fiction- compelled by past Country songs- or based on real-life events:  The words not only provoke speculation but ensure you are hooked and invested.  “You’ll be dancing in the dirt” is a promise that is delivered with panache and stamp- the band lets their voices commingle again- and you are caught up in the swinging, catchy vibes being thrown out.  South of the City shows what a bold and tight proposition they are.  The performances are beautifully connective and focused:  Each player drives the other and the song sound well-rehearsed and confident.  All Hell breaks loose down in the street.  The dogs howl and bark as cars drive by; the neighbourhood is rattling and alive.  Part of my brain imagining the songs in a suburban backwater:  Somewhere quite humble that is seeing a cavalcade of bike-riding hounds drive-on through.  On the other hand, you get suggestions of the desert and something more old-fashioned.  The band’s blend of contemporary and traditional makes their music so appealing and rich.  The banshee is wailing in the sky- the song’s subject needs to “find some shelter”- and you become ever-curious about the song’s origins.  Truly, the band has a way with words and building that tension.  Painted, howling skies sit with mystical gods and hellacious weather:  Language is kept simple but manages to promote some rather heady and epic scenarios.  On previous songs- you can hear on SoundCloud– the band elicit solos and compartmentalise their music.  That may be true of the introduction- the instruments come one-by-one; there is that gradual build- but the song is distinguished by its focus and unity.

Every member is in-step and content to play their part.  The vocals are exceptional and memorable throughout.  One of the criticisms that befell The Shires was the pitchy, over-ambitious nature of Rhodes’ voice.  There are no individual issues within South of the City.  Our heroine’s voice is assured and without fault throughout:  When the band joins vocal forces you get even more electricity and force.  In a music world where there are too many careerist chart-hungry artists- asinine and robotic- you get such a bracing and different sound here.  The guys have ambitions- they would like to be ruling the charts one day- but their music is very much aimed at those who appreciate music’s finer points- not calculated towards the lowest-common-denominator fan.  Occasionally, the guitar steps into the spotlight to provide some aural drama.  Given the song’s themes- something dangerous forming in the sky- it would be nice to hear that guitar turned up even more; create something viper-like and angry.  It is a small nag in a song that gets better and more rewarding each time you play it.  In a town where power lines pop- the “trees are dropping”- something apocalyptic can be seen in the sky.  Among the chaos and danger is warmth that makes the song such a winner.  A lot of artists- when assessing such themes- would put too much dourness and mordant into their tones.  The vocals are consistently heartfelt and caramel-sweet:  Imbued with enough punch to drive every (eye-catching) line home.  Mixing traditional Country twangs with an edgier Blues sound:  The band has created a track that is sure to find patronage across a wide range of listeners.  The contemporary and of-the-moment freshness comes through in every note.  The group master catchiness without compromising purity and quality; the performances are exciting and stunning throughout.  I can tell how much the band has rehearsed Up in the Sky.  The song has a confidence and nuance but it never sounds overdone and too familiar.  By the very end, you are compelled to reinvestigate the song and get caught in the whirlwind and destruction.  Charm, smile and memorability are words that perfectly describe Up in the Sky:  A very strong statement from a band that deserves wider scrutiny.

Congratulations must be given to a band that has defied my expectations.  Up in the Sky is going to be a hard song for them to top.  Of course, it will be part of their forthcoming album.  Where it sits in the line-up- thinking about it; it would be a perfect closing track- is up to the four-piece.  Propelled by unexpectedly polished production values- the most-clear and concise the band has come up with- ensures Up in the Sky crackles, shines and sparkles.  The entire band shows what a tight-knit team they are:  Every instrument and vocal part sticks in the mind and is hugely memorable.  Country music is a hard domain to come into:  Given its under-appreciated status in British music; there is a lot of work to be done.  Whether (Country artists) will find equality and equal-footing remains to be seen.  With bands like The Shires and South of the City emerging:  The future looks set to show some change and progress.  Up in the Sky mixes top-tapping energy with something moodier and brooding.  An explosive number that will not shake the brain for days to come- trust me, it will move into your brain and be a belligerent tenant- that is a big bonus.  So many songs I review dissipate from view following a few spins- no such pitfalls from the Guildford band.  The band/their latest cut have the potential to migrate from local levels to reach the plateau of national radio.  With a shift occurring- Country becoming more flexible and popular- I can see South of the City getting their music played on national radio.  U.S. stations could well become involved- our Radio 2 would love the vibes South’ put out- and that all bodes for a bright future.   They may have a fairly modest year ahead- local dates and a new album out- but that will all change in years to come.  If they keep the quality and consistency up:  We could well see this charming band become household names.

Perhaps I will never fully convert to Country music:  My heart will always belong to other genres.  That said; we should all be more open and bold with our music tastes.  If we all believe stereotypes and turn up our noses:  How will we ever get to discover great new artists?  I looked at The Shires earlier and highlighted them:  The first British Country act to crack the top 10 (with their album, Brave).  Maybe it is early days yet- not a whole lot of U.K. Country bands emerging- but I think we will see a lot of change and development.  I am seeing fewer Rock/Alternative bands come through:  Our new musicians are looking at other genres and the possibilities inherent.  South of the City are at the local level right now.  They are still solidifying their membership- the hunt for that elusive second guitarist- and playing the bars and venues of Surrey.  The fact they have evolved so naturally- name changed and an album in their sights- proves a number of things.  To start, the guys have an affection and bond that can see them play for many years.  They have a lot of faith in their material and sound:  They would not look at an album were they unsure and hesitant.  The band has quite a raw, lo-fi sound- a rarity that I am always happy to witness- and there are humour and closeness in the group.  The quartet has a wittiness and everyday charm that is resonating with social media followers.  Across Facebook and Twitter the group is recruiting fans and gaining some positive feedback.  Up in the Sky has gentility and drive; reflectiveness and passion:  All bonded and augmented by the energy and tightness the band possesses.  Up in the Sky is the sound of a modern Country band that mixes Rock and Alternative elements into a traditional, relatable core.  South of the City show adventurousness and originality in their lyrics- not all about love’s losses and splits- and have that drive to go as far as they want.  Already connecting with local audiences- they have played festivals and are very much in-demand- the best days are still ahead.  Whether they find another guitarist soon- there are plenty out there I am sure- or continue as a quartet, I am not sure.  When their album does hit- expected to be released very soon- it will show what the Surrey band has to offer.  On the evidence out there- Up in the Sky and song snippets across SoundCloud– the results will be exciting and well-worth checking out.

Tomorrow, I am reviewing Californian, YouTube sensation, Jeremey Passion.  The American’s smooth R ‘n’ B music has captured a wide audience and (he) looks set to be a star of the future.  One of the great things about this blog- apart from the chicks and money, of course- is the variety of music out there.  I would hate to- as some reviewers do- plug the same styles of music- focusing on bands only, perhaps.  It makes life so boring and predictable.  From my last review- London girl band IV Rox- to South of the City:  I feel a close bond with the Country band.  Despite the fact they are throwing distance from me- probably bumped into them about town- they have a genuine hunger to succeed.  They are local names right now, but that is not to say they will remain as such in years to come.  The Shires’ success might seem like an anomaly but really it is a wake-up call:  Listeners need to expand their horizons and stop being so rigid.  You do not need to be life-long fans of South of the City- their infectiousness might just change your mind- but their music cannot be disliked and ignored.  Over the last few years, U.K. bands Red Sky July and The Good Intensions have made an impression in Country music.  Slick harmonies and well-crafted songs have ensured they have a future, for sure:  They are just two names that are reassessing preconceptions around Country music.

I feel younger and inflexible listeners- who tend not to stray beyond the mainstream charts- check out Country music.  It is one of those genres that can bring in other components:  The beauty and beguile of Folk; the cool swagger of Rock; the accessibility of Pop.  South of the City releases their eagerly-awaited album (Poker Town) this spring.  The quartet has a good mix of fans and supporters right now.  In order for them to transcend through- reach mainstream levels of success- they might need to think about The Shires as an example.  The reason Brave made history was its air of bravery and familiarity.  At its heart, the album was a Country creation- recorded in Nashville by two musicians who have a fond love of bygone Country acts- but there was plenty of mobility.  Songs incorporated Pop and Rock together with drum loops, electronic elements and myriad possibilities.  Whether Poker Town will contain that blend- or settle for an Americana-cum-Blues template- that is up to the band.  They have the potential to make waves and give British Country music the exposure it deserves.  There’s a definite buzz and resurgence occurring.  British country acts are being embraced more and there is that tipping point unfolding.  I can well see South of the City at home in Nashville:  Perhaps (if finances allow) they could record their second album there?  For now- keeping feet planted on floor- they are trying to get people listening and make a mark on the local scene.  With Surrey being packed with promising new musicians:  There is nothing to suggest South of the City cannot mix it with the finest.  The smile, wit and connection are evident:  The members have friendships and bonds that reflect in their performances.  Their songwriting is inventive and solid:  Music that can reveal something fresh with each new investigation.  Above all- against the endless tide of Indie variations- South of the City provide something strangely new and unheard-of.  That factor is what will see them capture many more hearts and minds.  If they continue to grow and expand- a solid five-piece in time; add more colours to their impressive core- there is no telling where they could end up.  Whilst mainstream chart success might be a few years off, there is evidence to suggest this Surrey band…

COULD become one our finest Country music acts.



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