Kindest of Thieves
Wanda is available at:
Americana-Blues; Ragtime; Roots Music
The E.P., Cul-De-Sac, is available via:
Bones to the Gurney
Want You Something Rotten
Wanda; Baudelaire Black; Want You Something Rotten
OVER the next couple of days, I am reviewing everyone from a…
Japanese band to a Germanic solo artist- with some Trance/Electro. music thrown into the mix. You cannot say music lacks variety and range. My featured act- before I formally introduce him- embodies charm and originality. In modern music, there is that need and desire to be ‘ultra-modern’: sound of-the-moment and urgent. Consumers are not as predictable (as many artists) assume. The charts and mainstream are filled with artists that are like-minded, staid and overly-familiar: modern-sounding but without much distinction and colour. I would like to see more artists look back at the past and incorporate that into their music. There are musicians that blend decades and genres into their sounds: to my mind, even that can be limited and tame. Maybe it is seen as ‘uncool’ to revert to past days: it is 2016, so why would we want to hear something based out of the ‘50s, for instance? Well: consider this. Music (as we hear it today) did not just come out of nowhere: it has evolved over time and owes a debt to the early Blues masters of the ‘20s and ‘30s. The only reason music stands the test of time- and has mutated through the years- is from that initial basis. Who knows whether we would have a music industry at all were it not for those bygone performers? The best and most innovative albums/songs have drawn from a variety of sources and sounds. We cannot just look at music and assume it should all sound chart-ready and instantly digestible. The greatest albums of 2016- James Blake’s The Colour in Anything and Radiohead’s A Moon Shaped Pool– were/are packed with sonic innovation, changeable moods and stunning invention. The Pop charts are far too flaccid, rigid and distilled. I yearn for artists that put something interesting and unique into music. Christopher J. Fox- not the most eloquent way of introducing someone- deftly manages to be ultra-modern and vintage at the same time. He is a one-man-band of force and beauty. Taking his inspiration from an array of genres- Blues, Ragtime; Folk, Gypsy-Swing- we have an artist that certainly stands out from the crowds.
It is with pleasure- perhaps invariably- that my attentions return to Leeds- can never seem to escape the darned place! Having moved to Leeds- born in Manchester- Kindest of Thieves (Fox’s mysterious alter ego) has found a natural home. The Yorkshire hotspot is synonymous with embracing retro. music. Over the years, everyone from Electro.-Swing revivalist Little Violet- A.K.A., Cherie Gears- and The Holcombe Family String Band (sadly defunct) have come under my radar. I am not sure what it is about the city that breeds such a wave of rare musicians. While the likes of London and L.A. have a variation of acts: Leeds seems to surpass them all. With a lot of bands calling time- lack of popularity or the pressures of the game- we need to start paying attention to artists that are worthy and have the potential to last. I was sad to see The Holcombe Family String Band- a similarly-quirky and brilliant Leeds bands- disband recently. Their Hokum-cum-Ragtime sounds possessed swing, flair and something innocent. Looking back at simpler days: the group combined the romance of the past with modern production values and ideas. Kindest of Thieves does things in a similar manner. He (Fox) dips into the music’s past and shines up some (long-forgotten) sounds: stylising them and adding shine. Keeping faithful to the original text- making sure the genres still have their soul and heart- we get something eclectic, electric and new. It is like going into a fashion boutique. Kindest of Thieves scours the racks for various colours, fabrics and styles: experiments- with age and design- to come up with something dazzling and unexpected. Perhaps that was a little pretentious of me, but you know what I mean? He is a mixology and cocktail-making machine; he’s an innovator and risk-taking musician: however you see Kindest of Thieves you cannot deny this: there are few other acts that do things the same way! Before progressing- drilling down to the music and Cul-De-Sac– I am always impressed by a musician that can take things into their own hands. The musicians that impress me most are those that can transgress the biggest problem of (in my opinion) today’s music: the lack of ownership and personality.
So many artists are committee-written and have packs of writers on their albums. Even Beyoncé- an artist whose album Lemonade documented her rage at Jay Z (her ill-advised and disloyal husband)- had so many cooks in the kitchen. That vexed me somewhat. Why would you put something so personal onto record and have other people write it? Beyoncé is a woman who is capable of writing a song: does she need a dozen other people to make her (personal and distinct) messages come to life? If you are not able to write music yourself- or need a glut of producers to help you out- then you should not be in the game to start with. Those who have the talent and capacity to create music- from the initial germ to the finished product- gain my respect and adulation- regardless of the resultant quality. Kindest of Thieves is an artist I have been watching closely for a number of months now. Fox impresses me with his passion and authority of older-days music. Cul-De-Sac is a five-track E.P. that takes us to the ‘40s and ‘50s: a slight detour to the U.S.; a saunter to the northern coasts of the U.K. That is why Kindest of Thieves resonates and affects: you get so many places, decades, and genres in a single song. We need to start appreciating the musicians that want to keep history alive. Those ignored and overlooked types of music- Ragtime, for instance- deserve respect. At Cul-De-Sac’s heart is something contemporary and ‘today’. The songs combine a D.I.Y. charm with something slick and professional. If you have not followed Christopher Fox’s imaginative machinations: you owe yourself the opportunity to discover something rare and brilliant.
The Taxidermist (the E.P. released in September 2015 showed what a talent we had in our midst. The three-track record laid-out Fox’s stunning imagination, workmanship and wordplay- the way he could entwine personalities and portray love in a new and unexpected way. A fine and astonishing work: Cul-De-Sac expands that (early) promise and turns it up a notch. Right from the very first song: you are captivated and hooked. Whilst other songs (across the E.P.) have some oblique edges and mystery- not directly aimed at a particular person- Wanda is one of the most heartfelt and clear songs on the E.P. Our man wakes up to the morning and begins Wanda with bleary-eyed charm and rouse. If you thought Wanda was a pure and dedicated love song: there is teeth and humour to be found. The hero does not wake to “your leather hands”. Right there, you might imagine an ‘older’ female in the song- perhaps a misguided tryst- or someone that is not a typical heroine. The morning has come and there seem to be regrets and mistakes made. With any Kindest of Thieves songs: right from the off you start to get imagining and conspiring. My mind went to a sunlit bedroom- a small room in a quiet town- where our man is tip-toeing and collecting his clothes. Maybe my mind is starting shallow: there might be something more innocent and chaste at heart. The composition instantly evokes the glory-days of Ragtime and early Blues. Christopher Fox is a musician that has surrounded himself with old vinyls: you can imagine him spending evenings sat, embroiled in scratchy 45s- needle-jumping records from U.S. Blues champions and British Ragtime bands. With each passing second, the smile broadens on the face. The rather ‘uncontoured’ breasts and supple wrists are matched by a questionable girth: our boy’s bed has been ground to the floor- the mattress is getting a severe workout. In a year where love songs either sound sworded and seedy- drizzled in sweat and tongue- or distant: here, we have something charming (a word that will be used frequently in this review) and funny. Whatever caused this comical mismatch: you cannot help but jump into the song and imagine the parties in the morning. Fox is a man that has regrets and pain- having been struck in the eyes with various (loose-fitting) body parts- and is documenting his ill-fated congress. Compelled and energised by the spirited composition- it keeps cherry and heel-clicking right the way through- every listener will come away (listening to the song) with images and words bouncing around the brain. Wanda seems like a girl blighted by age, weight and gravity-defying size- someone that could appear in the pages of Viz. While our man stands back and assesses the wreckage- both metaphorical and literal, it seems- there is never any malice or cruelty.
Wanda has that old-skool Ealing comedy vibe to it: there is tongue-in-cheek and wit brimming to the surface. The cruel mistress- bedecked in furs and strange fashions- cause shivers for our hero. It would be great to know what motivated the song to come to life. With every Kindest of Thieves song: you know there must be some back-story to it. Wanda seems like a song that could only exist in the ‘30s and ‘40s- few modern-day writers have such a storytelling talent. Maybe Fox shared a bed with someone unglamorous and cruel: translating and modifying that experience into something vintage and humorous. Whatever the inspiration for Wanda: it is the perfect way to kick-start Cul-De-Sac. Nobody will be able to resist the spirited performance and stunningly pure vocal from Fox. I had to listen to Wanda a few times to let those words and scenes seep into the mind. The first listen was dedicated to embracing the oddity and quirkiness of things. Repeated spins saw me get into the lyrics and really dig deep. Even now- upon the fifth time- there is some mystery beneath the surface. The hero can “barely stand no more”- of the romance or life in general? – and he wonders how Wanda manages to carry on. By the two-minute mark, the song reaches its peak: the vocal is at its most inflamed; the strings sharpen and spin. Wanda consists of few original lines- codas and ideas are repeated for maximum effect- but that shows the economy and skill of Fox’s writing. He manages to make such a compelling and busy song with very few lyrics. The commitment of the performance and wide-eyed sense of surprise makes Wanda a real winner. It is a wonderful introduction to Cul-De-Sac and its finest moment.
After immersing myself in the likes of Radiohead, James Blake and Yak (there artists that are filling my head with all sorts of pleasure) I needed to step away from them and embrace something different- give my mind a chance to discover something new and lesser-heard. Kindest of Thieves- aside from the clever name- is a name you should familiarise yourself with. Other, similar-natured artists have (sadly) split: I feel Christopher Fox will not have the same problem. His social media numbers are solid: he is gaining new supporters by the week. There is a loyal band of fans that follow and cherish everything (Kindest of Thieves) does. The next gig- for those interested- will be the Warrington Music Festival. Fox is staying local at the moment: keeping himself in the north, at the very least. I would love to see him come down to London and play some gigs around here. I know there will be venues and pubs that would love to host him- clubs and spots that would go crazy for his music. That said, areas like Brighton would readily embrace the quixotic and heart-melting music- potential and possibilities around the U.K. Right now, Fox will be concentrating on the E.P. and ensuring people hear it. If you head over to his BandCamp page- the link is at the bottom of this review- you can hear the E.P. in full. Cul-De-Sac packs so much story and substance across its five songs. White Feather– one of the barest and most ‘live-sounding’ tracks on the record- begins with finger-picking and a delightful rush.
Compelling you to tap feet and get moving: the song spares no time in being aloof and wallflower-like. I am unsure whether white feather- the subject of the song- is a current sweetheart or a dream. “I want to take it out on you” and “perversion disrobes you” paint something dark and disturbed- other lyrics look at something more heartfelt and passionate. With every line of the song, the listener starts to imagine scenes and possibilities. Fox delivers the words with such passion and strength- marking himself as one of the most underrated singers in British music- ensuring White Feather sticks in the mind. I was thinking about love and romance: maybe a particular girl is in mind; someone that is quixotic and strange; you never quite know the absolute truth. Kindest of Thieves is an act that combines mystery and direct: every song has layers and room for interpretation. White Feather has such an effusive kick and swagger to it: no listener will be immune to the rush and energy of the song. Fox grumbles, growls and rises (with operatic splendor): encompassed in gentle notes and a seaside-adjacent scene- embittered and affected by the “cold and rainy weather”. His heroine has a war within her- she seems quite restrained and bottled-up- whilst the hero wants something more explosive and expressionist. Maybe I have got my theory wrong: perhaps the ‘white feather’ is more a concept or emotion- perhaps something intangible and more theoretic. It takes a number of plays for the song to reveal its truths: when it does, you will be hooked on its unique blend flavor.
Bones to the Gurney swims, swallows and lurches into view. A drunken merriment brings the song to life. Again, you wonder whether love is in the midst: perhaps our man is looking at an object or chattel. Bones’ possess one of the most complete and busy compositions across Cul-De-Sac. There is rambling, train-hoping brass sounds; punchy and tight percussion- heartfelt acoustic strumming. This one-man-band puts such originality, invention and beauty into the music. An accomplished and intuitive musician: Fox displays an affection and understanding of everything he performs. A musician that has one foot in the past- the ‘40s and ‘50s especially- and one in 2016- there are few musicians quite like him. Bones to the Gurney puts thoughts and ideas into the imagination, no doubt. Our hero wants to be looked over one last time: perhaps a romantic supplication or something different? With every line, you wonder whether romance is being documented- Fox keeps his cards close to chest. Listening to Bones to the Gurney and it is like you are in the room with Kindest of Thieves. Listeners are brought directly into the listening experience- without periphery and baubles- and you are fully immersed in the song.
Baudelaire Black starts with a racing kick: getting off to the races with no thoughts of walking or calm. Strings twirl and nod- almost Grecian or Hispanic in their sound- whilst our hero wipes blood from his body (again, you wonder just what he gets up to in his spare time) his heroine wears a startling dress- the colour, Baudelaire black. Charles Boudelaire was a French poet (1821-1867) who remains one of the most influential essayists and art critics ever. Given that context: you start to imagine various scenarios and ideas. Baudelaire Black is (actually) one of the most straightforward and direct songs on the E.P. It is about a heroine- someone that is quite exotic yet relatable- wearing a dangerous smile. Fox makes sure his voice is compelling and impassioned to the very last note. Representing a heartfelt- if somewhat odd- love note: you picture the heroine and the exchanges that take place. My mind- and yours will be- was taken back to the 1940s- the juke-joints of the U.S.: where cigarette smoke fills the air and the hat-wearing suave lean against the bar- maybe I need to stop watching so many old films! One of the most stunning tracks on Cul-De-Sac– second, only to Wanda– and you have to tip your cap to Kindest of Thieves. Over the course of three minutes (and two seconds) you are taking into a dazzling mini-epic with anti-heroines and blood-shed: double-cross and deceit; head-spinning strings and something spider web-alluring beauty.
Want You Something Rotten brims with northern charm and accent. Even pronouncing the song: you will do so with a distinct accent and angle. Even before the song starts, I get images of ‘40s music hall stars with ukuleles: ditties about special girls and lampposts (got to stop listening to George Formby so much!). The track begins with our man at his most helpful: he has been “teaching slaves to kneel” and sets his sights on the girl. The hero has been lonely and lost for a little while: he needs something fulfilling and exciting- he is setting his mind on getting the girl. With a busy and special mind: the boy is not going to relent or demure. Once more, Fox combines a bedroom-made sound- again; you are in the room with him- with exceptional musicianship and dedication. The vocal brims with spark and urgency: the composition combines contrasting emotions and sounds; a compendium of dance, fever and exhilaration. By the closing moments, the listener has taken in so much. The words tumble and you envisage the conversations taking place. The music gets the body motivated and the senses primed: one of those songs that’s destined for the live crowds. Want You Something Rotten has a singalong quality that would translate brilliantly to larger audiences. Whether Kindest of Thieves sticks to intimate, home-based crowds- or expands the horizons to something more intimidating- few can overlook what a treat Cul-De-Sac is. The five tracks whizz by and leave a deep impression- you are seduced into repeated investigation. Whether you are a fan of U.S. Blues and Gypsy-Swing- and the other sounds invested- you cannot refute the charm and memorability of the music. There are so few musicians doing what Christopher J. Fox is doing. If you want a smile put on the face- who of us doesn’t?!- then you need to do this: listen to Cul-De-Sac and…
HAVE your day brightened, thoroughly.
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