'Actors' & 'Crellin'
9.8/10. & 9.9/10.0
They modestly claim to be '"not everyone's cup of tea". If that were true, that is going to change very, very soon.
Availability: 'Actors' and 'Crellin' available now via: https://itunes.apple.com/gb/album/uncharted-ep/id479659088
A lack of innovation, personality and concern for design...
pervades a majority of the music scene right now. There is a lot of wayward egotism; a fervency towards the predictable, and a generalised fear of being labelled as 'outsiders' or 'rebels'. This summation is garnered from an empirical evidence: there is a multitude of new acts, few of which tick every box you would like them to. If they have a barnstorming musical template and divine ecosystem of talent, they loses points when it comes to personality or ubiquity. Music works under an umbrella of the Law of Causation in the Law of Tort. There are a lot of great acts and artists who can project an air of confidence, and produce a cracking set of songs. Often that hard work is underpinned by the arrogance, and sometimes plain loconisism of the participants. They often seem unappreciative of any support, promotion or helping hands; purely concerned with recording, gigging and sleeping. For those whom value kindness and support to be tantamount to paramount, come across as the most worthy bands. In a hazy climate of mixed metaphors, profiteering and fickle fandom, there is one thing to be said. If you use music as a way of externalising your base desires, proclivities and negatives; your career will be brief, but will have moments of spark amongst the black skies. If you see music as a way of dramatising and turning your interalisations into something more fascinating, you may see fewer sparks; but you will stick around a lot, lot longer, and build up a more appreciative and awe-struck fan base. The bedrock of my point is, that you need to have a likable personality, as well as good music. If you treat music as a vacation and something that is inalienable and easy, you will be disappointed. I am always more intrigued when the facile element are subjugated and taken to task. Because when a band comes along that are instantly loveable, and have terrific audio samples to boot, the resultant rush of endorphins, brings about a bright expression that is impossible to lose.
This brings us to Dead Sea Navigators. I was made aware of their pure existence by a female friend. I shall leave her anonymous, as she is modest to a tee, and knows that the reason for the introduction was to make people aware of the band's wunderlust; not self-promotion or kudos. I have been in communication with vocalist/pianist Steph Naylor. What impressed me most about him was he was so down-to-earth and modest. On behalf of his band-mates, he admits that the musical template may have detractors, or may be a slow-burning flame in many people's souls. He comes across as warm, friendly, and genuinely thrilled to have support and appreciation for what he is doing. The band consists of Steph, alongside bassist Nik Williams, and drummer Claire Brock. The band have an inter-gender kinship, and a diverse geographical intinerary to their name. Steph hails from Sheffield, whilst the band themselves spent their formative years close to home, where it was said they started life sticking to a rigid and overpopulated guitar sound. They felt that that scene and sound had grown stale; balling the paper up, tossing it in the bin, and starting afresh. Deciding to break from the parable of 'what every other band ever boringly does' they were clear about their agenda: avoid falling into the quagmire of boring lounge bar music, the sort of thing you hear pipes like anesthesia into caffeine quads and wine bars, around the globe. They were determined, instead, to fuse melancholic piano with "distorted bass", which consequently, would be a fitting discography for "the entertainment of late night drifters". Music label The Animal Farm loved what they heard, and committed to record an E.P. with the group; subsequently a spiritual rebirth occurred and the ensuing 'Uncharted' was amassed. The band's obvious, early epiphany follows the story of 'Archimedes and the Golden Crown'. It is stunning how they have modernised and abridged that Greek genius's fable. The glorifying "Eureka!" was not emoted by the protagonists- but instead by music critics. Time Out hinted at worthy comparisons with Nick Cave; Artrocker noted that they sound "bloody huge". Before I refrain and focus on the songs, I would like to bring two more things to your attention. The band wrote "what they wanted to hear", according to them; which, if you look at their Twitter page is "gob dribble"; Facebook (page) goes with "piano-led indie lounge". They balance a sense of humour with a business-like didacticism, cleverly making you laugh with them, and infantilise and chide them for their modesty. Lastly, they have an artistic eye for simple and striking imagery. Their E.P. cover is a gorgeous sunset image, depicting what appears to be an industrial/railway landscape, which juxtaposes, beautifully the band name and E.P. title. They are Navigators of an 'Uncharted' Dead Sea. Whether the nautical christening is a cheeky insinuation that the current music scene is an ocean, rife with listless, floating bodies, unable to sink (but contented to lay artlessly atop a stale water); or whether they are explorers looking for new lands, spices and treasures is open to ambiguity. They inspire thoughtful rumination. One thing is crystalline: they are captaining a formidable Dutch Clipper; surging through the waters, guiding the listeners to a waiting and much needed nirvana.
Okay then, folks. I have selected a couple of enlightening cuts from 'Uncharted', which I feel best express and define the sound and philosophy of Dead Sea Navigators. The opening plaintive piano notes of 'Actors' has a little bit of Radiohead's 'Pyramid Song'. It introverts and syncopate's the Oxford boys' haunting cry, stirring in some mid-career Kate Bush magic, and adding a little of Elton John's 'Rocket Man (I Think It's Going To Be A Long Long Time)' - before the modulation. This all follows after a spectacularly eerie, and almost psychotropic chorus of spirits. Whether it is a music recording played in reverse, or a linear progression, metomorphosised is curious. Just from the first few seconds your mind and soul have balkanised, refereed by a fast-beating heart. It is simply stunning. The swaying, almost Waltz-like piano punch, capitulates to a point mutation of percussion, that leaps from the waters and pirouettes gracefully. I can hear a Radiohead influence as the signature changes in the intro. There is an audible rise and fall of acceleration. The vocal interjection, however, contains little falsetto or femininity. Instead it is a classic baritone delivery, with nods to The National's Matt Berninger. Like him, Steph has a similar velvet glory, yet does not suffer from Berninger's oft-crestfallen depression. There is more light and lyricism to be heard, and when the words: "There's no trickle down/No upside to this/That I've found", it is spoken, backed by an almost Romantic-era piano accompaniment. The drum moves with supaventricular urgency, creating an emotional balance to the baroque/ballroom sway in the foreground. In the same way that Rufus Wainwright has blended golden vocals successfully with artisan, lush musical backing, 'Actors' has a similar ambition and quality. Naylor is able to invoke a little of the spirit of Gerry Rafferty too, possessing as he does, with a voice that is capable of tremulous quiet and televangelist power and passion with ease, never indebted to any influences; instead possessing a unique and soulful set of pipes. Beginning just before the 1:30 mark, is a brief call and response between vocal and piano. The former restrained and fatherly; the latter augmented and purring. The lyrics are consistently engaging and literal; seldom succumbing to axiom or obliqueness: "And if you had the nerve/You'd do your shopping underground" and ensuing couplets have a modern and wisps of dark fantasy and "hospitality overload". With a backing of sighing vocals and a pointed and punctuating piano, the drum holds its nerve and keeps order as the mood and tension grows. Just then, a creeping electric guitar, probing stab of piano and vocal-cum-organ trip, both atmospheric and ghostly, bring the song to a close.
Completing the duo is 'Crellin'. It pupates amidst a romantic and tender piano line, that again has hallmarks of Kate Bush, but also with the classical greats as well. I am not sure about the etymology of the song title. There is a Yorkshire-born actor called David Crellin, who has appeared in Emmerdale and Cornonation Street. Whether it a love letter to the soap bard, or has its origins elsewhere made me smile. I am sure there is a plausible logical to the title, but in my head it is a siren call to a 52-year-old Sheffield-born actor, who resides in Manchester. The romantic foreign indie film gives way to a gangster romp, as the piano is accompanied by a gutsy and bulging guitar and slapping percussion kiss of death. Our hero is telling his story, of how he has not written to Crellin, "in so long". Hey, perhaps it is about him after all! Anyway; the tone of the track is quite reserved and scene-setting musically, letting the vocal and lyrics to keep your focus. The Berninger comparison seems apt, in the sense that the song manages to combine poetic and thought-provoking, and often humorous lyrics, with a cultured and consistent musical aesthete. As you'd expect with Dead Sea Navigators, there is a twist afoot, as there is a romping up of tension and atmosphere. Strangely it seems like an updated version of 'Stan' by Eminem, except with less psychotic undertones, and a transposition of key players and pertinent plot points and twists. Again the lyric's wardrobe and attitude is modern and sharp; there is a tangible and coherent story that runs through the song, and is like a truncated version of a nervy film noir. There are slowing sways of piano, coupled with darker tones, as once again one thinks of 'Amnesiac'-era Radiohead, and Nick Cave as well. Naylor employs a similar strange theatricality that Freddie Mercury did on 'I'm Going Slightly Mad'. The repeated and shortened chorus mantra: "Would you throw us a bone/Now you're out on your own?", is effective and studded. Naylor's voice soars and infuses a reverent and mannered tone to the track. If you picture the scenes that the track pertains, then you may imagine a kidnap scene, or creepy playlet. It is because of the commendable vocal, as well as driving and searing backing, that juxtaposes the palpable strain and adds an extra depth and intrigue to the track. Before the 2:00 mark, the vocal is held, and combined with the piano, drum and intelligent bass reminded me of 'Muse's coming-of-age gems on 'Absolution'. There is a comparable authority and quality, which, when combined with the lyrics, gives the track a meritocratic punch. What follows is a beautiful intermission, which takes the form of sterling bass, powerfully emotive drums, and a transcendent and altered-voltage piano switch. The music dances in the rain, with its sweetheart in its arms, as the moon shines bright. The chorus coda comes back up, as a final few words are proffered. The vocal elongates and twists with a wordlessly, with operatic undertones in its power and conviction. There is a apocalyptic ending of the War of the Roses, as the piano is hammered violently for a brief moment, before there is calm, and we are in safe waters.
I am not a vengeful or spiteful human, but any person who is still credulous in their belief that a lack of huge guitar sounds, means a lack of appeal, I hope now has irrefutable cause to shut their mouths and open their minds. I have been reduced to a mess of intransetive verbs and a messy stupor after hearing the tracks. I am ressembling a special needs dog at the moment, tongue hanging from the corner of my mouth. It is hardly an over-exaggeration to say that Dead Sea Navigators are music's best kept secret, as well as your new favourite band. They have been most modest in their assumption that they will be heard only in clandestine dens. They have a quality and might to their work ethic and results that suggest they can break a huge Berlin Wall of misconception and divided opinion, and ignite the current music scene. I have been staggered by the recent surge in quality acts and the diverse mix of sounds, palettes and voices. To my mind there have been too many guitar bands, and a small few have managed to distinguish themselves from the pack. Most climb and reach for heaven, instead they precipitate and fall to ground, cruelly subjected to the accelerated and fickle gravity of the music scene. Steph and his comrades said that they wanted to break away from the overcrowded and predictable guitar rabble, that has threatening to stagnate for some time. Instead they manage to fuse a classical elitism with a ubiquitous and indiscriminate modernity to their sound. The drums and percussion are authoritative and keep the other two in check. They elevate and punctuate the mood when needed, and when the lyrics, vocal and bass bend, the percussive spine remains strong and unbreakable. The vocal of Naylor is impressive and inspiring throughout, able to employ a range of emotions and shapes; ruminating and pulsating within the space of a few words. I'd like to sum up the review, by mentioning a couple of quotes from The Taming of the Shrew; which I feel lend weight to the group's appeal. The first is: "There's small choice in rotten apples". The noun would refer to a small sector of the current music scene. The closer you traverse to the capital, the fewer quality acts you will find. Around London and certainly within the 'mainstream' or within what is considered 'popular' there is little variation, and plenty of 'rotten apples'. I have never cared much for chart music, and the acts that pull in the biggest bucks. They are often bland, plastic and lacking teeth, guts or balls. If one wants revelation and a fulfilment of the pursuit of glory, you have to look hard, and search in all the right places. The location- if you are wondering where to find such hallowed acts- is the north of England, especially Greater Manchester and Yorkshire. This is where the healthy and ripest crop reside, and I believe that Dead Sea Navigators are the cream at the moment. The last quote concerns the sequestration of all of the finest and most worthy acts. In my exchange with Steph, I have been overwhelmed by his gratitude and appreciation at having his band's work highlighted and given a thorough review. It has inspired me to do- what I hope will be- justice to the group's talents. At the same time, I am sad that it has taken so long to hear of them, and hope that the forthcoming album, will see them elevated from the shadows, and brought firmly into the light, because I was blown away by both songs, and the E.P. as a whole. In respect to the cloistered nature of this fantastic trio, I cannot say it better than: "My tongue will tell the anger of my heart...
... or else my heart concealing it will break".