'The Chase (Or Lord!)'
Fresh-faced, multi-nationality sextet, make music to conjure a myriad of emotion, that ellict a peaceful bipartisanship. Prepare to be inspired.
Availability: 'The Chase (Or Lord!)' is available via http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AH3b104QN6A
It has been a while since I've been able to analyse a band...
that hail from, and originate, from lands and towns beyond those of Great Britain. I have even gone biblical with regards to formatting. I wanted a font and colour scheme that reflected the group. I have plumped for a multi-coloured affair; as representing them through colours and tones, is as difficult and mind-melting, as trying to summarise and describe them through words. It is something I shall- attempt to- do, duly. For now, though, I am reminded that there is not a lot of national endeavour or cross-continent unification, when it comes to groups and acts. If you are part of a 4 or 5-piece group (or even larger), chances are, that depending on your gender, the rest of the group will be of the same sex. It is more common for a duo to be unisex, than larger bands. Occasionally there is a bit of a mixture, but more often than not, unless you are The xx or Fleetwood Mac, or whatever; there is not a lot of gender mix. The mention of the latter example may go some way to explaining the reason behind this phenomenon. It is well documented- what went on during the band's history. Leading up to- and especially during the recording of- 'Rumours'; there was a palpable and excruciating tension. Cocaine marathons, aside, there was so much tension between the two couples of the band, that it is surprise that the album got made, and turned out to be so successful. I guess it pertains to the adage that you should never work with anyone you are in love with. The fact that you spend a vast amount of time together, and are under each other's feet, will always result in a fight or disagreement. The fact that 'Rumours' was the band's masterpiece, is the exception that proves the rule. It was not a break-up album, instead one that was fuelled by and invigorated by tension. Songs like 'Go Your Own Way' and 'You Make Loving Fun' were enforced by tension and affairs. Most other bands and acts, who have men and women co-mingling, have either dissipated, or ended messily. The xx are a modern band, who remain focused and collegial, due to the fact that there is no underlying personal clash; just sagacious music. As for the reason why there are few bands who mix nationalities, I am not sure. I guess you form a band with people you know and are similar, and chances are they will be of the same kin and locality. Past bands have managed to posses a diverse palette of cultural elements; but it is the modern scene that seems to be displaying a worrying trend. There is little mixture of races and nationalities. Bands tend to be very singular; not deliberately segregational or exclusive; yet its patrons, I suspect, have little concern with diversification. The inclusion of foreign and diverse sounds and ideas can revitalise and strengthen a band. Bringing together a varied air of melting pot ingredient, can galvanise a common thread, as well as inject a credit of egalitarianism. The mention of gender and race within music is pertinent. The fact that it is a comparative rarity should be questioned. It may display a wider issue of insularity and homogenisation within music, but as Highfields show, having a cultural mix of players, leads to a phenomenal brew.
The 6-piece, are a new band to my ears, and I found them via a website called Unsigned You. They post new bands and music each day, which- if you are like me- gives you a chance to experience new sounds and inspirations. Delving into their social media properties, they come across as charming, pioneering, and focused. They consist of: Robert Mulder, A.K.A., "Wise Man Mulder", their principle songwriter, who provides vocals and guitars; Leon Pearce (with an accent over the 'e'), or "Le-Le", the TASK MASTA, their cellist, banjo player, and fellow guitarist; Marius Rekstad, the "Moustachioed maestro", who provides piano and accordion duties; Runar Nybo (forgive the missing diagonal line through the 'o'), a Knows What's Best- bassist extraordinaire, A.K.A "Rune Poon"; Alec Brits, or "The Menne" Groove Factory, whom provides percussion; and finally, Melodie Ng, in charge of aux. percussion, glock. and melodica, going by the sobriquet, "Mel Mel". I was impressed that the band have assigned monikers and nicknames (like The Travelling Wilburys did). This gives them an extra layer of likability, and shows they are light-hearted and want to cultivate personality and a touch of fictionalised fascination to their aesthete. It is obvious from the names, who origins from what country, but they hail from (not in incongruous order): Canada, Norway, Jersey, Singapore and South Africa. It is the mutual friendships, as well as the multicultural diversity that makes the group so strong. There is no municipality within the band; instead a sense of musical laissez-faire, concerned not with personality hierarchy, but focused on creating a principality of strength and common ground. In 2012, songwriter/producer Guy Chambers provided laudation and props to Highfields, praising them most highly. This year they have been working with producer Jon Withnall, whom has produced for the likes of Feeder and Elbow. Their trajectory certainly is going to see a vast ascendancy, and a continuation of positive critical reception, that will see them with a very full scrapbook of wonderful memories, by the time winter rolls back around. They have been heralded as a wonderful new act to watch, and have obtained this, not through providence or luck; instead a balanced cohabitation of fresh folk sounds, and an undeniably tight and established mutuality of obligation. In print they exude a fun-loving and playful air, and the laundrette-themed imagery on their Facebook page, portrays a band that are comfortable with portraying an outer skin of regalement and fun. Most bands, in photos, are serious and moody, concerned that any hint of playfulness will result in them being ostracised from hearts and minds. The irony seems lost on a music scene concerned too much with mannered portfolios, and business-like songs; even bands who are loose and adventurous through music, often come across as defined by ego or po-faced 'cool'. It was a breath of fresh air that proceeded the intro to 'The Chase (Oh Lord!)'.
You won't need a spectrum analyser to sense the excitement and elevation in the intro. The accompanying video on YouTube may allude to British 'Breaking Bad'-esque scenes; potential violence and tensions beckon there; but the track elicits a merriment as an edge of cello and string strung, begins a building scintillation. The initial seconds sound like an Anne Dudley composition: parts P.G. Wodehouse; bits 'Les Mis'; seconds of The Grotesque linger in the mix. The ensuing explosion of good time roll, and jazz/swing rumble, implores you to kick off your shoes and dance along. There are classical edges to it; it is like listening to a 6-piece orchestra that you would hear in the piazzas of Covent Garden; where sway and invigoration are the order of the day. It is difficult to point to any nationality or thread influencing the sound, but there is western Europe and Scandinavia to the flavour. Before any words have been proffered, an energy and folk charm has been infused; like Mumford and Sons, sans faux-Irish tones and overall nausea. Our "Wise Man Mulder" options that: "I don't have a penny to my name", although there is no sense of moody blues. The vocal is at once ubiquitous, and exponentially unidentifiable. It is an original and refreshing voice, and one that will not be instantly comparable. It is the interjected rabble chorus of "Oh Lord!", that provides a celebratory and humoured countenance. If you were to imagine the more enlivened and extrospective numbers on 'The Beatles' ('The White Album'); then this will sound familiar. I could imagine McCartney writing this kind of number in 1967/8; quietly plotting his musical machinations. The lyrics have a modern and timeless relatability, as well as a personal relevance to them (for its author): "Please pull me up/Before I drown" is a transitory sentiment, but is a influential pebble in an ocean of emotional ripple. The audible sense of gay abandon is infectious; at times sounding like an expurgated and transversed Run-DMC; at others there are spritzer splashes of Gaelic cocktails; with Andy Stewart-cum-Latin insouciance-cum They Might Be Giants. The words tumble with syncopation, modulation and breathless enunciation; as the band are up to the task, and up for the craic. It is a same sort of break-neck pace that you would hear on 'One Week', but the themes here are more heart-aching; there is always a sense of running away from things, and having to keep doing so. The music video to the song lends credence to this, and although it depicts a petty theft/chase/incarceration scenario, it is a congruous tableaux. At 1:05 there is an orchestral piano air of Rachmaninoff; a little bit of Joe Jackson-esque vocals ('Something Going On Around Here' came to mind). The piano and sonic kick becomes more subdued, as the vocal and lyrics take charge in the foreground. If you're watching the YouTube video, this is the part where the band cameo; if you're not, you'll have to take my word for it. There is a lovely musical break as the harmonica blows with a strong pull; the piano bobs along the waves, and bass see-saws, and the band whip up an intoxicating folk smoke. It pulls your attention away from the troubles of our protagonist, and what ails his mind; instead abating any woe, and recruiting you to a merrier beat. There is struggle and a return to the parable, as it is said that "I don't always get it right". There is always determination and resilience through the lyrics, as our hero wants to get things right, and make everything good. And although he doesn't have the trust of an unnamed muse, or indeed any pennies in his pocket, there is an optimistic theology that runs through. And before I could dust off my bitchin' dancing clogs, the song was at an end; able to wrap up its message and lodge in your mind, in under 3 minutes. If you have not seen the video for the song as well, I would advise a viewing, as it gives a visual dynamic, and probably is a projection of what comes to everyone's mind when trying to pen a filmic narrative.
The residual aftertaste I get from reviewing a lot of new bands, is that of trying to tick preconceived boxes, in order to conform to an idealised model of what 'a band should be'. Solo artists have more freedom to explore and rebel, but all seem too encumbered and shackled by a desire to please/secure a record label before winning over legions. It was Oscar Wilde who said: "Fashion is a form of ugliness so intolerable, that we have to alter it every six months". I can see in my mind a placard or poster of this in the offices of E.M.I or Sony, where perhaps timelessness and originality are not bedfellows. So many virgin acts are worried about slipping into a musical quicksand, that they err too closely to the shores of existing bands; often losing their own voice and sense of purpose. For those who are established and perhaps less indebted to market forces, they can fall victim to overindulgence and a qualitative lack, when it comes to experimentation. For those fledgling bands that are willing to shows the guts to win the glory; the results can be nerve-wracking (from the perspective of a label head or music lover), but are spellbinding. It shows true character and strength to supersede expectation and labels, and instead write and perform what you love, and what you hold true; a sound bereft of quick comparable. New music and an irrealist mood, or not mutually exclusive, nor predicated by logic. For those musicians who have broken free from the bedrooms, garages, local dive bars and pre-pubescent music venues, the first steps to adulthood can be frightening. I understand- as a songwriter myself- just how intimidating being head can be, and how difficult it is to be recognised, and hold to a collective bosom. With the likes of so much gut-rotting flatulence within the current scene, the secret to alchemy seems to be a mixture of compounds, thus: originality, energy, tight sound and a desire to commandeer consciousness and predict future needs. I will conclude my summation of the current scene with a quote from Winston Churchill: "The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter". One suspects that this should be on a poster on the walls of the the musical big wigs. Loyal and ardent music obsessives like me would live longer, and die a lot happier, too.
There are a lot of fantastic things about Highfields. As I have mentioned, they have garnered a lot of press from some distinguished patrons. Aside from any intellectualisations, the band succeed because they are bloody good. They have a fair few followers on the social media pages, and quite a few more views on YouTube. I feel that this alone, is a simultaneous decremental commentary on modern music fans, and a worrying sign of the times. So many less-deserving and comparatively diminutive acts have received greater fanfare and attention. In a time where the likes of a monumental cretin like Justin Bieber gets millions of fans, followers, dollars and corporate reach-arounds, it is quite frankly disturbing that so many superior and more credible humans in music, have to electioneer much harder to obtain a modicum of the plaudits. That said, being a likeable human, who is not a naive and thoughtless jerk is more important than anything. The band are filled with exciting and noble members, who are aware of what it takes to make excellent music. The effort they have put in to their fan pages, and how they portray themselves is admirable. They care as much about fans and listeners, as they do the music itself. It is not a coincidence that the music itself is (consequentially) amazing. As well as being incredibly original and fresh, it is also born of and belonging to an era past, where empirical superiority reigned. Although I have spun just one of the band's tunes, none of my words are hollow or unjustified. The group have plenty of 'The Chase (Oh Lord!)'s' in their back pockets, and when E.P.s and albums are on the horizon, then their status as one of the must-watch bands of 2013 will well and truly be consecrated. Highfields have the pedigree and talent to set fire to the scene. The creators are multi-instrumental wizards, imbued with a sense of fun as well as straight-laced honest. The local cuisines of the band members may not seem to blend well on paper, or work if you ever put them into a cooking pot; but it is because of the diversity and captivating personalities that they do, so well. Fickle minds and an overcrowded market have buried and drowned many a good act. The 6-piece should have no fear, as they already must sense that the public and professional will be theirs; as they are the kings and queens of an intersection where quality and quantity meet. In relation to the following quote by Confusius, Highfields achieve success and gold-plated musical attribution because of an autobiographical and honest understanding of the first, a disownment and ignorance of the second; and by a personal assessment of, and commercial expectation of, the thirds. That is: "By three methods we may learn wisdom: First, by reflection, which is noblest; Second, by imitation, which is easiest; and third by experience which is the bitterest". But have no fear...
... Highfields need no chicanery or slights, to become wise.