James Edge and the Mindstep
On a Red Horse
On a Red Horse is available at:
14th March 2016 (video)
On a Red Horse by James Edge and the Mindstep
Written by James Edge
James Edge – acoustic guitar, vocals, string quartet and bass solo arrangements
Andy Waterworth – double bass
Avvon Chambers – drums
Ali Dods – Violin
Howard Gott – Violin
Sophie Sirota – Viola
Vicky Matthews – Cello
Recorded by Tom Aitkenhead at Milk Studios
Mixed by Tom Aitkenhead and James Edge
Mastered by Ade Emsley at Table of Tone
Artwork by James Newman Gray
The E.P., On a Red Horse, is released on 15th April on Folkstock Records
THIS review sees me document and enthrone a song that has been…
garnering a lot of attention and praise. As I type this, I’m listening to Funkadelic’s 10-and-a-bit-minute epic, Maggot Brain (from the album of the same name). I am mentioning the track- not just because it’s freaking awesome- but of what it does to you: how the song reaches inside and elicits something in everyone. That track, according to legend, saw George Clinton- Funkadelic’s leader- instruct guitarist Eddie Hazel to play an epic solo. The premise/inspiration was this: play like your mum had just died; then you found out she hadn’t. There are variations on this legend- including some preposterous conspiracies- but that beguiling instruction resulted in something mystical. If you feel Jimi Hendrix is the maestro of mind-melting guitar work, then listen to Maggot Brain: it is an exorcism and psychotropic dream that remains- 46 years after its release- a true masterpiece. I listen to the song with mixed emotions. I adore the song and know I will be affected by it: wonderful, life-changing songs are a rare breed. That is the bad part, really. How often do you find music that is THAT unique and strange: something that nobody else is doing? Luckily- rare in 2016 music- my featured artist is pushing musical boundaries and creating sounds few others are trying. Before I come to them- and the latest video- I wanted to discuss music videos; a bit about Kent music and experimental music. Music videos are seen by some as a trudge: an inevitability you have to endure to appeal to YouTube viewers. I know some artists (in the mainstream) who couldn’t care less about video promotion- that really does show. I would say (music videos) are more vital than they have ever been. With the proliferation and rise of YouTube/Vevo etc.: there is little excuse to negate a vital area of music promotion. I appreciate there is (for new artists, especially) a tight budget at work. After studio/recording/promotion costs are all tabulated: how much do you have to spend on a music video? Even with a meagre amount of capital, you can still create something memorable and influential. I bemoan the demise/decline of the music video. From Michael Gondry-created gems- his work with Bjork, The White Stripes and Daft Punk- from the edginess of Chris Cunningham; the peculiar charm of Spike Jonze: just recall those works of beauty. Some of my favourite music videos have pushed away from the ‘traditional’ modes of filmmaking and pushed boundaries. Consider two works: Blur’s Coffee & TV and Radiohead’s Street Spirit (Fade Out). The former- directed by Hammer and Tongs- saw an animated milk cartoon (called ‘Milky’) go searching for the band’s guitarist, Graham Coxon. Negotiating the streets and its dangers- a brief, if tragic flirtation with a strawberry milkshake carton- he finds our hero. It is a video that brims with inventiveness and stands-in-the-mind storytelling: perfectly backing an exceptional song. Conversely, Radiohead’s Street Spirit (Fade Out) promotion is a black-and-white video filmed in a desert outside of Los Angeles. The surrealist moods and beautiful saturation were sat alongside a mixture of speed effects: the result was profound and utterly gorgeous. You have to watch the video and see what I mean but, if anything, the video eclipses The Bends’ haunting swan-song. We see a lot of videos emerge weekly: all of a variable quality. I find the overall quality is somewhat lacking. Whether defined and constrained by finance- unable to create something imaginative and fully-fledged- I am not too sure. James Edge and the Mindstep- inspired by Radiohead’s animated video for Paranoid Android– have managed to make an awesome video on a small budget. They have shown it is possible to create eye-catching art without breaking the bank. Videos are vital with regards music and pushing a song: it contextualises the messages and helps to promote a track. If it (the song) were posted to YouTube, sans video: how many people would watch?
I want to raise a new point, but for now, let me introduce you to my feature act:
“James Edge is already a studious musical maestro and a top drawer composer. The Kent-raised musician studied composition to master’s degree level under Joe Duddell – arranger for the likes of Elbow and New Order. After moving to London and starting to gig in 2006, he formed James Edge and the Mindstep to record 2010 debut album ‘In The Hills, The Cities’. The working relationships he built around this time would provide him with some dependable collaborators, including regular engineer and occasional co-producer Tom Aitkenhead, best known for his work with Laura Marling and Bloc Party. A core jazz-folk trio of Edge, double bassist Andy Waterworth and drummer Avvon Chambers materialised. Together the trio started recording second album ‘Machines He Made’ over a five day period tracking everything live and only overdubbing the backing vocals. The songs were largely unrehearsed, with band members and additional session players mostly having not heard the pieces before. This spontaneous hodgepodge has resulted in some of the most whimsical and deeply experimental music to come out of the capital in a while. The eerie acoustics of Nick Drake inform the atmospherics of much of James’s songwriting, but his sheer compositional nous – which draws on aspects of jazz, modern classical music and punk rock and roll – elevates songs like ‘On A Red Horse’ to a place far above any glib and generic categorisation. He is closer to a modern day Zappa, channelling his eccentric art through folk arrangements to create something deeply surprising, raw, and unnerving.
The On A Red Horse EP is released 15th April 2016 on Folkstock Records. An award winning independent label, they have achieved over 20 plays on BBC Radio 2, 3 and 6 Music over the last year, receiving positive Sunday Times reviews for their compilations and charting albums in The Telegraphs’s Top Folk Albums of the Year for 2014 and 2015”.
Kent is not, perhaps, the first place you’d think of when it comes to your music innovators. Given its proximity to London: it is not surprising there are some mouth-watering artists emerging from the county. Historically, the likes of Soft Machine and Slaves; Caravan and The Rivals call Kent home. Fatboy Slim was born in Kent (Bromley) and here is a county that is very much on the rise. With James Edge born here, you have to ask: how many other treasures can be found? As opposed to other areas of the U.K.: I find Kent-based musicians have a bravery and edge to them few others possess. Maybe it is the local scene- or the need to prove themselves- but you get something more colourful, daring and nuanced (in Kent). I hope more bands/artists make their voices heard: steal London’s hegemony and show what they are made of. I am glad to review James Edge and the Mindstep because their latest track, On a Red Horse, has so much to recommend. In addition to the wonderful vivid music video- I shall touch upon when reviewing the song- its recording process was like no other. An unshackled and unpredictable recording process from unpracticed musicians given very little guidance. Armed with scant musical notation- enough to get a feel for the song- they essentially jammed the song from scratch. That nervous energy and improvisation resulted in a natural and stunning song. Playing in the Folk milieu; the band were keen to break from the pulpit of everyday and boring- Folk has that stuffy reputation among many critics. The stream-of-consciousness recording is something you do not find in music today. I would love to see more bands- Indie and Rock, for example- abandon rigidity and just live in the moment. Like an inspired painter- not to get too wanky- live in the moment and be FREE. James Edge’s troupe have shown just what can happen when you throw away the rulebook. On a Red Horse bristles with what-ifs and unpredictable concoctions. The top-of-the-league outcome has been heralded and celebrated- and rightfully so.
James Edge and the Mindstep are not a new proposition in music. James Edge formed the group in 2006- having moved to London from Kent- and released the debut album in 2010- the wonderful In the Hills, The City. With Tom Aitkenhead- an engineer and collaborator who would become a regular fixture- Edge would unite with double bassist Andy Waterworth and drummer Avvon Chambers. The Jazz-Folk trio went to record the album Machines He Made over a five-day period. Even in those early days, the rules and working handbook was notarised. Songs were largely unrehearsed: that hodgepodge of experimentation and spontaneity defined the guys straight away. The debut was a strong and unique effort that saw eerier, Nick Drake-esque atmosphere coloured by compositional nous- enforced by a love of Punk, Jazz and everything in-between! What you do notice- and the greatest change- is how assured the guys are. With each year; they seem to galvanise and solidified their bond. Despite the untutored nature of the performances that does not dampen the final result- every song sounds utterly compelling and intoxicating. I cannot wait to see how the group grows and builds from here. I know there will be a lot more music coming, but what form will it take? With each record, James Edge and the Mindstep are trying to draw more people in. The social media numbers are climbing but they could be higher: the band deserve more fans and supporters. In terms of sounds/influences (James Edge) is compelled by guitarists Bert Jansch and John Martyn. David Bowie and Bjork; Everything Everything and Joanna Newsome: all idols and influences for Edge. If you are inclined towards any of these acts- and need something fresh and memorable- check out James Edge and the Mindstep. Machines He Made will be released later in the year- after their new E.P. – and shows a musical outfit who seem to be the most hard-working and consistent in modern music.
On a Red Horse begins with gentle, finger-picked acoustic sentiments. Reminding me of Five Leaves Left-era Nick Drake- the riparian tenderness and accomplished talent- our hero sound approaches the microphone. With coughing-up and unexpected horrors: the song’s central figure is heading to war astride a crimson horse. Given the song’s vivid and quirky lyrical openings- watch the video and how it matches the words- you get a warm and Thom Yorke-esque vocal. Not making the comparison as a detriment or slight: Edge has a similarly warm and expressive falsetto that gives every word impact and emotion. “Quoting from the book (of what) you’re fighting for” leads me to think of holy wars and something historical. Given the nature of the world- the mobilisation of terrorists and modern religious crusades- you can interpret the song in a couple of ways. Showing the world has not changed much- as barbaric and insane as ever- I cast my imagination towards older-day battles and an armoured warrior on a trusty steed. After the rather contemplative and gentle moments: the song begins to open its wings and embrace the new dawn. The percussion rifles and builds in intensity- a multi-limbed roll that gets the sweat pouring- whilst the strings conspire and strike. Double bass and cello- mournful and resplendent- fuse with busy, sparking viola and violin: the mood contrasts and off-the-cuff performances are beautifully realised and performed. Adding texture and conflict to the song: you have an ecstatic and sensational confidence from each musician. While the song looks at truth-telling and reality- the song’s hero is struggling to tell the truth- you wonder what compelled Edge. An angry song that spews against facile and dishonesty: I was wondering just what motivated the creative process. James Edge will know the truth but you get hooked and intrigued by the oblique-and-real blend. Entranced by the pure and driving vocal- that sees The Bends-era Thom Yorke kiss Jeff Buckley at his Grace-ful best- you have a lead that captivates and holds the listener aghast. It is the composition that hooks the hindbrain: a mezzanine of preening peacock feathers; an aberration of conviction and swirling vortex of unhinged emotions. Whilst I struggle to define and rationlise Maggot Brain: I am faced with the same challenge across On a Red Horse. Edge clearly holds umbrage and hostility at heart: the song is his exploration of deep intensity and disquiet.
When the musicians play, you get different sides of various albums. I know Edge is inspired by Nick Drake and Five Leaves Left. I can see that- when the acoustic guitar spirals into impossibly-dreamy territory- but I get shadows of Pink Moon. A certain moodiness and harrowed soul- Drake recorded the album shortly before his death across a single night- lingers within the performance. You can envisage our man sat (alone) in a candle-lit studio: alone with sadness and anxiety; this is a musical execration and cry for help. Were it not for the composed and honey-sweet voice you would be fooled. Elements of Bjork (Medulla and Vespertine especially) mix with Miles Davis strands (Kind of Blue and Bitches Brew). The immaculate romance and spine-tingling etherealness provided by strings- the morose and angered becomes tranquillised and utterly beguiled- elicits an enormous sensual response and acts as a needed juxtaposition/disciplinarian against the bubbling anger. Despite the free-natured sound of the performance; it seems as though Edge and his cohorts have an unspoken connection. The vocals and acoustics drive the players and vice versa: they each ensure the story moves along purely and without constraint. Past the half-way marker- when the musical parable reaches its crux- Edge’s acoustic boings and strikes with lustful vitriol. Reverence of Drake emerges within James Edge’s gorgeous performance. Just then- and with nary a warning shot- a grumbling, monster-like string sound emerges. Almost brass-like in nature- listen to Radiohead’s The National Anthem finale- the low-born cello/double bass (excuse my ignorance) lends an air of eccentricity and neon-lit drunkenness. Moving from a chapter of twilight reflection and somnambulist drift: we now transport to a running-from-adversity chase that acts as the song’s high point. The hero is at his most dangerous, unpredictable and uncontrollable. Odd, bracing and delirious: such a wonderful and unforgettable performances is laid out. Like Paranoid Android– that must have been an influence- the song goes through various ‘suites’. Our man comes back on the microphone and continues the tale. Fireflies and rain (are enough) to get the hero “riding out again”. At every stage- when the lyrics unfold- you imagine horse-straddling fighters going to war. I might be subjective but am resolute in my interpretation- the truth, of course, will be very different. Inside the final minute, the players are not done shocking and amazing. The once-brooding strings tighten and become more intense. Perhaps the aftermath- of war or a singular, unforgettable moment- the listener is dragged into a whirlpool of emotions, images and colours. By the final notes- when the song releases you from its grip- you have to take time out and let it all sink in.
Congratulations must go to the people who made the song happen. Tom Aitkenhead and Ade Emsley (who recorded and mixed the song between them) capture and mix everything superbly. Allowing the musicians to reign free and naturally: Aitkenhead and Emsley have captured the variegated notes and ideas into a cohesive (strangely enough) track. Supported by Edge (who helped mix the song) I was amazed by the production values and sound that came through. Each instrument and layer are clear and concise: not over-produced; just the right amount of gloss has been expended. Andy Waterworth’s double bass acts provide the moody, mordant tones that give On a Red Horse its most stark and edgy moments. Avvon Chambers’ drums are consistently focused and strong: giving the track its heartbeat and driving force. Ali Dods and Howard Gott match their violins beautifully. Orchestral, symphonic at once; gliding, graceful and graceful the next. Sophie Sirota blends her viola in and contrasts Vicky Matthews’ cello with authority and discipline. James Edge leads the players and has assembled an incredible troupe. Together- and with little direction- they have created a mind-melting track that will compel you to revisit it many times over. It is not just his guitar-playing acumen that impresses and amazes. The lyrics have nuance and obliqueness that means they can be extrapolated in a variety of ways. At its heart, is anger from a young artist with a lot to get off his mind. Lesser artists would be unfocused and too intense- losing musicality and concision for the sake of directness- but Edge has created a wonderfully rich and multifarious delight. I have not mentioned the music video- needing to concentrate purely on the music- but it is a phenomenal work of art from Ross Butter. Directed by James Edge, the duo has summoned up a meticulous- a process of hand-drawn scenes that show a huge dedication- and unforgettable video. Perhaps inspired by Radiohead’s Paranoid Android; we see the song’s lead- a rather odd and troubled individual- reveal himself (naked exposure) rather graphically. Going on a kind-of rampage- genitalia swinging and drug-addled crusade: he is confronted by the police; overlooked by a shocked crowd. By the closing moment- in the midst of an L.S.D.-provoked freak-out- the hero grows to truly gargantuan propositions. Ending with a blood-spattered assault on the town- eating and scalping anyone within reach- we end with a bit of humour (a passer-by putting the coin in the cap of our fallen- and deceased- lead). Altogether, On a Red Horse is a stunning work from one of music’s true innovators.
I have been shrugging my shoulders a lot, lately. I have loved the music reviewed- the variation and quality I hear- but in a wider sense, there are few musicians I would recommend. James Edge and the Mindstep has provided some solace and chance for reflection. A new- and wholly unexpected prospect- I have loved witnessing something original and daring. When their E.P., On a Red Horse, arrives it will provide the public with a chance to hear something sensational. If it’s title track is any indication: the E.P. will be a rousing success and contain truly wonderful material. I opened this review looking at experimentation and music videos: how each facet is being ignored and watered-down to an extent. The modern music scene is never going to inspire and progress unless (musicians) push themselves. There are too many artists that either follows the pack- blind sheep looking for guidance- or expend the minimum amount of energy and thought. Whether you consider it a gamble- doing something bold and against-the-grain- I admire those who take chances and genuinely experiment. Many would imagine something messy and scattershot: musicians throwing notes together in the hope they stick. That is not the case at all. As James Edge and the Mindstep have shown: bending the rule book can lead to something truly exciting and fresh. If you have not discovered a James Edge and his Mindstep then make sure you dedicate some time to them. With albums and acclaim under their belt, they are one of the most exciting and inspiring groups playing. If you heard genres like ‘Folk’ and ‘Jazz’ mentioned- were you not a fan- the nose might crinkle and the smile might contort. I agree on a couple of things: not everything in the Folk realm is promising and recommended. There are a lot of stilted and dull musicians who think an acoustic guitar and honest heart are enough to seduce a listener. James Edge realises a shake-up needed to occur: add colour and strangeness into a genre that is seen as very safe and unsurprising. My Maggot Brain diatribe was hardly a coincidence: it is an experimental/unrehearsed song that shows what can happen when you play with emotion and live in the moment. If that song too studied and honed, what would it sound like? It would probably be a comparative house cat: something that would take a long time to make its mark. The same can be said for Jimi Hendrix’s most inspired jams. He was not a guitarist who spent a lot of time crafting songs and slaving over notation. I am not saying every musician needs to go in without anything committed to paper: just see what comes out and hope for the best. If you are a Pop artist or part of an Alternative band, then once in a while take a chance! James Edge and the Mindstep are evolving and growing with every release. I can hear that progression and confidence expand with each new record. The fact On a Red Horse boasts a freewheelin’ performance shows just how assured the musicians how; how brave James Edge is. The video for On a Red Horse is a strange and unforgettable documentation of an equally bizarre creation. James Edge is seen, by many, as a modern-day Frank Zappa- without the mad scientist facial hair! In a couple of weeks, the On a Red Horse E.P. will be released and show the band in full flight.
If its title track has wetted the appetite- it sure should of! – then you will want to get your ears on the E.P. I am an advocate of the music video and its importance in the current climate. If you look back, we all have our favourite videos. Whether you are a fan of Peter Gabriel’s Sledgehammer– and its progressive, plasticine-motioned animation- or Michael Jackson’s Thriller– and that John Landis-directed epic film- everyone has their opinions. Over the last few years, very few music videos have stuck in my mind. Kendrick Lamar withstanding- who can back up his genius with some truly astonishing promotion videos- there are few that expend that effort and passion. It might seem like a minor point, but it really isn’t: the video is just as important as the song. The video is the promotional tool and visual representation of a song. If you bare the minimum effort and just phone it in- it will, consequently, drag the song down. My arguments aside, we can all agree on one thing: On a Red Horse is a song that wins you over on the very first play. Watch the video with it and you’re treated to a mind-altering and sense-lifting musical experience. I am not sure whether James Edge and the Mindstep have any touring plans- I guess there will be at some point- but it would be great to see them up-close. Given the experimentation within On a Red Horse; it will be wonderful seeing how that translates on stage. There are so many musicians that are too restricted, passive and limited. When artists like James Edge and the Mindstep come around, we must do everything to ensure they get…
THE attention they deserve
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