Villain is available at:
April 13th, 2016
Los Angeles, U.S.A.
OVER the coming weeks I am going to start spreading my horizons…
and break out of easy habits. The more ‘focused’ reader will note how often I have reviewed L.A.-based musicians- almost a second home when it comes to the best sounds around. A lot of my recent attention has been divided between L.A. and Folk music: today I bring both together; perhaps the last time I will do so for a little while. It is not a bad thing at all: new talent is new talent; finding great music should not be dependent on location and genre. It is, in fact, just nice to be able to ‘get out there’ and hear some different music. I shall not talk too much about L.A. – lest everyone complain- but Folk comes back under the radar; as does defiance in music- finishing off with a bit about U.S. artists coming over to the U.K. I have been bashing Folk a little; making it pick up its feet and starting working: too many artists are playing in the genre without injecting any personality and passion. I am siding with (some) critics who bemoan the raft of somewhat boring Folk musicians: those that strum their guitar and sing with such listless desires. If you are going to be a musician- and want people to follow you and be fascinated- then you need to stop doing what everyone else is. In the same vein: unless you have a mega-super-wonderful voice: plaintive string-plucking and cliché love songs are not going to cut the mustard. It is not just Folk that has this reputation: there are too many Pop acts that seem intent on b the world; making music as vanilla as possible. Since the ‘60s and ‘70s- when the legends of Folk were born- the genre has struggled a little bit. Never as popular and dependable as others- Indie; Rock etc. – there has been variability and inconsistency through the last few decades. I am not saying everyone who does not sound like Bob Dylan and Neil Young has failed- quite the opposite in fact. I feel like too many young Folk artists are unwilling to push boundaries and capture a larger audience. You get musicians that are happy in their own wheelhouse- rather traditional and predictable- and do not realise the opportunities in front of them. Folk- when married with other sounds- has the potential to inspire so many; go far beyond the expectations of critics and listeners. Maybe this is a generational bias- me being a rather snooty young reviewer- but Indie-Folk seems like the most logical approach to the Folk-quality conundrum. If last year showed anything, it was how much you could do with the genre. The likes of Father John Misty and Laura Marling produced stunning works. Throw Sufjan Stevens and you have three of the finest artists in ANY genre. What these artists showed was what could be done when you mix Folk cores with something deeper. Father John Misty is perhaps the most pertinent comparison. Writing universal themes- heartache and love; struggle and longing- with heartfelt melodies and personal transparency- you have an astonishing album (I Love You, Honeybear). Kyle Britton is an artist who takes the traditional elements of Folk and expands those outwards. Not just confined to acoustic guitar-based love songs: here is an artist who understands the importance of daring, emotion and response. His music elicits something deep and human: able to bring beauty and hope to dark moments. Before I continue, let me introduce the L.A. musician to you:
“Inspired by the quiet musings of troublesome love and the path to understanding, the emotionally evocative music of indie-folk singer-songwriter, Kyle Britton, epitomizes storytelling in its truest fashion. Britton’s distinctive sound combines undeniable dark undertones with roving melodies and atmospheric refrains, offering a unique experience for his listeners.
Britton enlisted help from Los Angeles’ most seasoned musicians including Kyle Crane on Drums (Daniel Lanois, Elle King) and renowned violist, Ginny Luke (Rihanna, Dave Matthews Band). Famed engineer, Darryl Swann (Macy Gray), made sure to highlight Britton’s warm and natural vocals.
Perhaps it was growing up in a military family which led to Britton’s desire for non-conformity and individuality. Britton expressed on his father’s influence “I grew up with my dad telling me that if music is not evoking an emotional response it’s not doing its job.” The EP is a demonstration of Britton’s continuous hard work towards his childhood dream. His natural dedication has led him from ‘fake-playing’ his 7-year-old rendition of Def Leppard’s ‘Pour some sugar on me’ to creating an EP that actively analyzes his decisions in life, whilst convincing us to do the same”.
Once more, Los Angeles is proving what a stunning musical climate it is. Perhaps it is the weather: that perennial warmth that ensures its musicians are at their happiest and most relaxed. Maybe the bubbling, multi-cultural communities compel something. Who knows? Whatever the reason (behind the upsurge) it is hardly surprising to hear Kyle Britton come through. When his E.P. is released in a couple of months: it will show what a talent we have in our midst. It is always challenging predicting how far a musician can go. The signs are all good when it comes to Britton. There is a defiance to him that impresses me greatly. He is not an artist that betrays Folk’s true nature: his music contains traditional arrangements and does not stray too far from ‘70s Folk ideas. What we get is a musician that strives to hit the heights of Father John Misty, Laura Marling and Sufjan Stevens. Indie-Folk is a style of music that is becoming more popular and appealing. Any artists that rebel against Rock and Alternative music is alright by me. There is a proliferation of new musicians that have that arena-pining sound: they want to be the Next Big Band; follow in their idols’ footsteps. That is all well and good: yet I am not hearing THAT much originality and quality. Some of the most merit-worthy and fascinating acts of this year are those that tease Folk and Indie together. This is personified by Kyle Britton who is a musician I can hear going far. Based in L.A. right now- enthralling the local crowds- it would be good to see him come over to Britain. More and more American artists are finding a home here and spending a lot of time around Europe. I am all in favour of embracing musicians beyond our borders: making the U.K. a more cosmopolitan and all-embracing musical nation. Music is still hamstrung by costs and distance. Unless an artist is close-by- I am talking about new musicians- the press can often pass them by. It is challenging keeping abreast of all the brightest and most attractive artists around the world- I can sympathise with that. If Britton were to play a few shows here- maybe a few across France and Europe in general- that would give him exposure here. Britain has some great, emerging Folk acts: there is a definite audience for him here. Villain is a fresh cut that announces the arrival of a determined and forceful artist: someone who can hold attention and fascination for years to come. These are the early days- making bold proclamations might be a little unwise- but who would bet against him?
Riddle is going to be released on June 10th. It will give the world the opportunity to show just what Britton is made of. I am predicting the E.P. will be a concept record of sorts. The tracks will all roughly ascribe the same ‘muse’: a woman that has left her share of pain and heartache. Villain is a song that recounts the fall-out of a relationship: the scars and rubble left following a painful split. The song is not as one-sided and obvious as one might suspect. There is self-confession and honesty here. No finger-wagging number- our hero opens himself up and is not free from blame- it shows huge lyrical and musical diversity. Soundtrack was released late last year and performed with Jewelia Hepburn-Zaferes (Britton’s fiancé). Showcasing affection and devoted love: it is one of the most positive and celebratory tracks Britton has performed on. Villain has darker undertones and shows what variation and range our hero possesses. When his E.P. is released; it will be interested to see which songs are included. Whether he included Soundtrack– or collaborates with his fiancé again- that will be interesting. What you will get is confidence, authority and originality. A Folk musician that does not want to be labelled and overlooked: the coming years are going to be very prosperous for the L.A. musician.
Villain opens with a mix of staunch strings and funeral undertones. A bell rings in the background; there is a storm-lashed atmosphere and a real scene being set. The studied and emotive guitar sound put me in mind of legends like Nick Drake and Neil Young. You get drawn into something historic, wonderful and familiar. It is when the voice arrives do you get the biggest impact. Husky, smoky and beautiful: the perfect canvas that brings the song fully to life. With your soul and heart lost inside that embracing tongue- a vocal that grabs you and drags you in- the self-confessional tone of Villain elicits speculation and curiosity. Our hero is warning the girl to stay away. Not wanting his blue eyes to fool her: pain and heartache will wait. If they continue to play, it seems the heroine will get hurt: there is warning and caution that rings through the early stages. Bits of Paolo Nutini emerge in the vocals- that same duskiness and caramel-smooth burr- and you get touches of Soul legends. Such a complex and rich voice ensures the listener is invested and seduced. Most songs- that deal with heartache and loss- cast blame on the other party. In fact, when seeing the song’s description on paper, I was feeling rather weary and anxious. I was assuming we’d get another she-broke-my-heart-what-a-vixen song: one where the knives are out and there is a lot of immature blame. Britton is a mature young man that realises his foibles and indiscretions. A man that is brave enough to show a darker side: one that his sweetheart should be very wary of. I know Britton is engaged- not sure if this song recounts a previous relationship- but I was hooked by the impressively bold and honest confessions. After the initial strumming and acoustic-led composition- and with the chorus arriving- you get a thumping and militaristic percussion. The hero confesses his sins- being a villain and heartbreaker- and announces it with determination and resonance. On the one hand, there is certain defiance and swagger- like this revelation is not such a big deal- but on the other hand, you feel like the young man is baring his soul and letting the pain free. When the chorus arrives- and explodes with dance and energy- Britton’s vocal reaches fever-pitch levels of smoke-ravaged husk and intensity.
Admitting to being a “bad boy”- again; perhaps the tongue is placed in cheek- you get a mix of humour, honesty and self-confession. These components work together wonderfully and highlight a song with depth and originality. I mentioned artists like Father John Misty up-top- the benchmark for the best in Indie-Folk- and Britton has some comparable threads. He takes Folk’s traditions and heritage and brings his own blend to the genre. It is hard to define and put your finger on- you just know something special is happening. Villain has a theatrical touch and almost seems like a production unfolding. So much attention is put into every aspect of the song. The lyrics mix the everyday nature of cautious love- and not putting faith in someone who will do harm- with something very personal and different. The way Britton projects the lyrics- “I’m a bad, bad boy” gets elongated, truncated and repeated beautifully- adds drama and flair to proceedings. In that vein; the nature of the lyrics- stay away from a slightly toxic bond- is impressive indeed. Britton’s choice of words and delivery blend malevolence, wisdom and cheekiness; emotion, terseness and passion. The composition mixes marching beats and swooning strings- they rise and fall; jump and dance- that leads to something quite extraordinary. It is impossible to listen to Villain and not be fascinated and nod along. The energy and rouse bring Blues and Rock into a Folk centre: an electrifying song that rattles around the brain and involves every listener. Too many Folk artists seem too bland and vague: not the case with Kyle Britton. That raw and naked voice is essential and utterly superb. Stinging strings and bait-and-switch ensures there is nervousness and unpredictability to Villain. The hero has a teasing allure but comes with a dangerous sting: do not be fooled and keep at bay. Britton is happy when writing about love’s universality and desires: embracing the good and acknowledging the inherent good. Villain is the flip-side that was born from a dark place. Needing to exorcise demons and doubts: the song is a warning sign and burden that needed to be defeated. Given that premise: one might expect an unfocused and rather off-putting song. What we have is something cohesive, hugely dramatic and memorable. You can tell how much attention goes into every note and idea: a lot of time has been expended to ensure the song is as good as can be. Shimmering, country-fried strings join the throng- another wonderful addition- and give Villain new layers and shine. Towards the final moments, there is some tenderness and swoon. The wordless vocals rise and fall; the strings shiver and the percussion teases. Before you get comfortable, the chorus swaggers back in and suddenly ends- a beautiful and unexpected dead-stop.
Kyle Britton has combined with some of L.A.’s finest musicians- Ginny Luke is the violist; Kyle Crane on drums- and backed by the engineering of Darryl Swann. The husky, warm and varied vocal- from the man Britton- is given wonderful shine and exposure. Joining wonderful musicians together can often be a risky business. Sometimes they do not click and sound unnatural together. Here, we get something cohesive, symphonic and together. Every player is completely in-step and knows their part: the ensuing performance is among the most impressive you’ll hear this year. Kyle Britton proves what a stunning writer and performer he is. The lyrics (to Villain) mix pantomime anti-hero and raw-emotions-come-clean confessions. There are intelligence and wit together; catchiness and catharsis: all the ingredients that make a perfect song. Throw in a sensational voice- that has few equals- and few can deny the brilliance of Villain. What his forthcoming E.P. will contain- and how Villain sits in- we are in for a real treat. Having just a few songs under his belt, I have heard few artists as confidence and distinct fresh from the box. If you have not discovered the brilliance of Kyle Britton: go and correct this forthwith.
Riddle and Villain are two songs that signal a musician with an incredible sound and talent. Both songs look at universal themes and keep things relatable and tangible. Not breaking the mould too much- ensuring the audiences have something familiar and comforting- Kyle Britton adds something intensely personal. His music looks at disreputable and heartbreaking women- perhaps both songs are based on the same girl- and ensures darkness, atmospherics and non-conformity. Heralding from a military background; it is perhaps not a huge shock Britton has that rebellious side. He is not a Folk artist that plays it too soft and safe. Every track he performs leaves deep impressions and gets inside the mind. I have mentioned a trio of Indie-Folk artists- Laura Marling, Father John Misty and Sufjan Stevens- and am not employing these names liberally. Between the three superstars; it shows what Indie-Folk is capable of. Many are too reticent and reserved when it comes to musical endeavor. We all get comfortable in our skins and are reluctant to be too adventurous. I am one of those people that tip-toes around Folk quite a bit. I have heard so many musicians (in this genre) that leave me cold and lifeless- playing music that could bore you to tears. Folk is evolving and starting to show some ambition and potential. Too many artists get caught in that Bob Dylan-via-Nick Drake-by-Joan Baez style of Folk. Unless you have their lyrics and voices- nobody in modern music ever will- you are not going to captivate too many hearts. Artists- that play this kind of music- stick to love-loss themes and never let their voice/music fly. That is not the case with Britton. A musician that leaves instant impressions on the listener: the music he plays contains so many layers and possibilities; dark hues inside light and hope. Maybe his themes of love and scorn are not the most original and progressive- that does not really matter. It is hard to be truly original (when it comes to themes) but that is not to say it is impossible. Even when talking about love and fall-out; there is still huge potential for gold and depth. Villain does not leave too much to the imagination- the title pretty much tells you all you need to know- but the vocals, melody and music catch you by surprise. You would never be able to predict Kyle Britton at all. On paper, he seems like your everyday musician. All these assumptions and predictions are overthrown when you hear the music take hold. I have found a hungry young artist who could well be a big proposition in the future. I make declarations and predictions when faced with a new artist. I shall do this less- as some bands have split up following my reviews; not my fault I’d like to add- but that is the fault of the industry/public and not the music. I have every hope Britton will grow bigger, stronger and more dominant.
His social media numbers keep going up: the basis he has cemented is loyal and dedicated. Not just confined to U.S. audiences: the L.A. musician has support from all across the globe. It is rare to find a musician so loved and assured right from the off. Kyle Britton is making his first steps but already sounds assured, fully-formed and arrived. When artists do this- swinging in and have that confidence- you always get excited. I know his debut E.P. arrives in June: make sure you grab it and let its tracks take your heart. Maybe Kyle Britton will not ascend to the bonkers-as-hell magic of Father John Misty: our hero has his own ideas and sound; no-less impressive, imperious and beautiful. What you get with Kyle Britton is to-the-bone lyrics that we can all understand and abide by. Music is becoming too indirect and machine-made. I feel the soul and heritage is slowing fading from today’s sounds. It is easy to record music and put it online: when there; you can ‘like’ and share music to your heart’s content. I love how music can be shared with the masses; the variety available and the fact we can get it for free. What I worry about is the human element. Behind machines and SoundCloud links; it is tough to get an impression of an artist: just how they tick and what goes into the music. In the past- and before the Internet- records got to your ears off the backing of record labels. Few musicians made it into the studio without a record contract and faith behind them. Publicity and promotion involved radio and T.V. interviews: making sure the artist could be heard and seen. Now, that is not the case at all. There are a lot more musicians but fewer that linger in the mind. That might be me being subjective and biased: music was a lot better in the past. Whilst my heart will always belong to a past time: I have every hope the new generation can provide some wonderful music and inspire millions. This year is seeing a bumper crop grow and flourish. Kyle Britton is another one of those musicians that make me smile and wonder. I cannot wait to see his E.P. drop and what the future holds for him. Although his music comes to us via digital means and studio production: he is one of the most human and emotional artists you can discover. The music is not layered with polish and fake tinsel: you get hard-hitting reality and beauty; contrasts, complexities and soul. My expectations are high- when it comes to modern music and matching the past- but there are so many wonderful artists working away; trying to get their music into the mainstream. Given that determination and effort- and with the likes of Kyle Britton making huge footprints- it would be fair to say…
THE future looks rather safe.
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