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SCANNING about the wave of solo artists emerging right now…
and there is, it goes without saying, enough variation for everyone. I feel today’s music is a confusion battleground where we are only really exposed to a small percentage of artists out there. In order to establish who the very finest out there are: radio and the Internet are the best two options; it can be tough getting on top of it all and keeping track. I am an ardent fan of 6 Music and find their proffered artists are among the best in the world – I do wonder how many artists they miss out on, though. It is impossible playing every fantastic artist out there but I guess that is the good side of doing a blog: you get to see another side of the music world that escapes a lot of radio stations and press outlets. Before I come to investigating my featured artist: I wanted to talk about emotion through music; artists from less-known counties of the U.K. and inspirations for song subjects. We all love a musician that digs deep and presents something emotional and introspective. So long as the music is not too heavy and draining: getting a glimpse into an artist’s soul is one of the finest aspects of music. Too many artists write about love dislocation and inner-searching but hide it behind heavy beats and electronics – it can distill the true emotions of the song and come off somewhat cheap and insincere. One of the problems about being truly open and tender is losing people’s attention. It is a hard balance to assess something raw and harrowing whilst keeping the focus of the public. As such, a lot of new artists coming through are changing their pens away from deeply personal (and harrowing) subject matter and concentrating on other concerns. It is a shame but I guess having lyrical diversity is only a good thing. If we go back to the theme and seeing what the solution is: new artists like James Blake (although he’s been around for a few years) is a good example of how it should be done. Take his current album, The Colour in Anything, and it is rife with deep and textured songs that are among the finest this year. Previous Blake albums have been more maudlin and romance-based – assessing damaged love and trying to piece it together. Never one for direct lyrics and obvious storylines: metaphors and oblique touches are sat aside tremulous, atmospheric vocals. The Colour in Anything yearns for happiness and self-improvement; spaciousness and drama run throughout but above all is sheer beauty and majestic shimmer. He is one of those musicians that not only takes control of his songs, and does not let scores of producers tamper with them, but is able to pour his heart onto the page and keep the listener entranced. For those musicians that want to balk against acoustic guitar-led sounds and a one-dimensional approach: Blake has shown what can be achieved with compositional variation and intelligence. I bring up this (rather lofty) aspect up because of my featured artist, Tamu Massif. That name is actually a moniker of Weston-super-Mare artist Dave Dixon and he has got me thinking more about music and standing out from the crowd. His latest track, OK, recalls a rather upsetting time – more on that later – but the way he puts that on the page goes beyond the routine and predictable. Not quite putting as many elements into the mix as James Blake: he manages to elicit a range of ideas and possibilities through the composition; mixing sound effects and harder sides with elliptical, light-seeking moments.
OK casts its inspiration to a dwindling friendship and fractious time for our hero. Relationship break-ups are common concerns for musicians but usually centre around love – friendship erosion is not as widely covered as you’d imagine. We all experience times when treasured acquaintances and mates drift away or there is an argument. I feel too few songwriters do not cover these kinds of topics because they fear it is too personal – damaging a friendship beyond repair perhaps. If a relationship ends, you are not looking to get back with that person – so it is okay to put it down in a song. Maybe trying the same with a friendship drama is risky business? I am not sure but Massif has shown bravery and insight but capturing a stressful and fraught time, and in the process, bringing something new to the realms of break-up and split. What stuns me about a lot of modern artists is how rigid they are lyrically: often going for lowest-common-denominators and easy answers. We all have busy and complicated lives so one would imagine there is enough food for thought? Of course, love is important and we all can relate but that is not to say the consumer wants to hear about it all the time. You do not need to look too far away or reinvent the wheel: just take the time to concentrate on something less expected; something nobody else is covering. Those musicians that stick in my mind are the ones who introduce you to fresh horizons and rebel against formulaic topics. Massif has looked at love in the past, but as his latest single proves, he is an artist that captures of-the-moment events and places them on the page. The only way music will push forward and inspire future generations if we become less rigid and defined. It is an area I want to go into more depth about but it might have to wait for another time.
It is good finding a musician that comes from outside of London. I love London but have focused quite heavily on the city the last few months. Massif will be playing a lot of London shows in the future but his base and home is Weston-super-Mare in Somerset. I have reviewed acts from around the U.K. but is has been a while since I have stepped outside of London and its environs. When we think of upcoming artists, perhaps Somerset is not top of our considerations. I feel we often get too obsessed with the big cities and forget there is a whole world of towns and villages with fantastic musicians in. Historically, there are not a lot of legendary musicians that hail from Somerset – I might be wrong but I am struggling to think. The likes of Tamu Massif will not only help put Somerset in the mind but raises a good point. Music is not exclusive to the cities and London and we all need to realise the full scope of British music. I said early on how difficult it is to discover all brilliant new musicians coming through but one imagines a little dexterity and flexibility will go a long way. I had never really thought about Weston-super-Mare for music but am compelled to look more and see what other musicians come from there. Further than that: I will look at other less-represented musical counties and discover what is out there. It is vital we support artists from all over the country and ensure we do not overlook areas outside of the city. I feel one of the reasons we get obsessed with cities like London and Manchester is that is where so many musicians end up. Personally, I know a lot of musicians who flee to London due to the lack of opportunities where they live. Maybe there are not enough platforms or too few people: how realistic is it remaining in villages and towns if you are an artist? Naturally, the more people that pack into cities the harder it is to find opportunities: the cities become compacted and it leads to musicians being squeezed out and suffocated. It is difficult making it in the industry so can appreciate the lure and attraction of the city. Tamu Massif records at his Weston-super-Mare studio but gigs in London too: seemingly striking a wonderful blend and not too overwhelmed by the rush of the city; finding inspiration and creative outlet at home. I am digressing but it is another point that we need to address: providing more money to towns so musicians do not have to move out; easing the burden in the big cities to ensure musicians there have chances.
Looking back on Massif’s work and you can see how far he has come in the last couple of years. Azora was released just over two years ago but showed a promising young talent and someone who differentiated themselves from the mass of artists out there. The composition is quite sparse but the racing beats and delicate piano notes create a lot of emotion and story on their vocal. When listening to the vocal, you are hard pressed to compare it with another singer, and instead, are introduced to a soulful and emotion croon. A singer that is capable of delicacy and power in the same breath: Azora is a song that gets into the head and has so many different layers and sides to it. Perfect for contemplative times or a solitary drive during sunset: it has that self-assessing mood and tranquility to it but enough energy and spirit to stand up to repeated plays. An impressive song no doubt. More recent work like Holding Back has shown how adaptable Tamu Massif is. A more traditional, acoustic-based number: its emotional resonance and gorgeous vocal get the hairs standing up. Despite a certain pastoral mood: Massif injects fizzling electronics and colours into the song to ensure it never becomes sonorous, boring or unengaging. The song draws processed, hypnotic female vocals in and warped sounds: juxtaposing against the reverent beauty of the opening; Holding Back grows into something complex, busy and spectacular. Listening to the opening minute and you assume you have the song figured out. Each line and verse find Holding Back grow and expand; taking in new sounds and ideas and demonstrates what a talent he is. OK takes that a step further and is, in my viewpoint, the best song Massif has created so far. It has strands of Holding Back’s D.N.A. and is a new phase for the artist. Alba was wonderfully received last year but I feel the 2016 output from Tamu Massif is stronger, bolder and more arresting. I am not sure if certain influences and experiences have led to this evolution – you can definitely hear a slight improvement and new inspiration. I am sure the upcoming E.P. will contain similar songs to Holding Back and OK and be up to that level. Early on, I mentioned James Blake and you can detect that as an influence in Holding Back and OK. The Electronic/Alternative/Post-Dubstep musician is compelling a lot of new artists and that is to be commended. Tamu Massif does not replicate Blake’s themes and sounds: using him as a bit of a guide; he creates his own version of that foregrounded Post-Dubstep sound and put his own stamp on it.
OK is the latest song from Tamu Massif and recalls the closing phases of a fading friendship. While visiting friends in Naples (last New Year’s Eve); that is when inspiration struck. Hearing and watching the fireworks burst from his balcony: he got thinking and ensured he captured the sounds and explosions of the night. Rather than dwell on the pain and loss; it has gone into a song that is mature and intelligent. Massif (or Dave Dixon, I should say) knows relationships and friendships can be temporary and unpredictable at the best of times. OK begins with oddly child-like, processed vocals that make you think straight away. Perhaps the sound or sample of the friend in question (it is a female voice) is a weird and machine-processed opening that gives you an insight into OK’s mindset. Distorted, hazy and confused: such an instancy and urgency can be discovered straight off. There is little time to reflect and predict as the song comes straight to life. Subtle but powerful electronics create a brewing storm whilst the beats crackle without becoming too heavy and insistent. That vocal opening seems like the other side of a conversation of a voicemail being played – not quite real but very relevant to Massif. When approaching the microphone, the voice is typically emotive and powerful – power and strength seem to define the work of Tamu Massif. Although some of the early vocals suffer some intelligibility issues – slightly drawled which means it can be hard to pick up on the lyrics – it is the fervency and passion of the vocals that matters most. A stunning voice that has ample beauty and grace to it: our hero does not want to settle down and rush in life. You get thinking about the dynamic of that friendship and what has caused this drifting apart. I am not sure whether our hero’s friend is male or female but one senses it is a female. The two used to be close but have not been in touch for a while now. It is not necessarily anyone’s fault and perhaps they are different stages of life. I sense the bond was quite important and perhaps has romantic possibility. It seems like the two were serious at one point, but now, they are reduced to scant conversations and the odd communication. Our man might not have been that smart and a bit lackluster; maybe remiss and ignoring the importance of the friendship. “Is it okay?” our hero asks if he doesn’t settle down: it gives you impressions of romantic domesticity or a shared agreement. Perhaps the two had plans or she was getting a bit too firm – perhaps wanting him to commit to a way of life or spend a lot of time together. Massif is a free and creative young man that is dedicated to music and this might have been a breaking point. Unable to commit to a time and place and predict the future: it seems like differing interest has found them separated and on barely-speaking-terms.
OK has two distinct halves to it. The first is reflecting on what has happened and asking pertinent questions (whether they can start over again); trying to piece things together and wondering what went wrong. The lyrics, those that are clear and come through, sort of offers apologies and explanation but seems confused and lost – it was a pure friendship but has just drifted away out of control. The vocal and lyrics are placed in focus and our hero wonders if he is becoming sentimental and over-thinking perhaps. The second phase of the song places more emphasis on the composition: perhaps our hero is spent and too emotional to carry on; steps away from the microphone. After the first couple of minutes, we learn a little about how the friendship broke down. There is a regret but no real answer as to what happened. It just seemed like the two were on different pages but there is that desire to rekindle things and regain that closeness and connection. Knowing it is beyond repair or slipping away: the second half of OK lets the music speak. Electronics trip and persists; they trip and swoon and shimmer – occasional beats add a little spark but keep in the shadows for the most part. A song that has sensuality and loneliness to it: you imagine the time that inspired the song and what Tamu Massif was thinking about. After the pitch-shifted vocals and melancholy of the opening: it all develops and changes. There is chaos and celebration in the street, but on the balcony, a sense of twilight eeriness and thoughtfulness. You transpose yourself into the song and are stood alongside the hero – looking down from the balcony and lost in his own thoughts. Towards the closing stages; that New Year’s Eve celebration and rapture comes more into the song. Before that, there are twinkling and odd electronic notes: they ping and twinge; quite a strange but inviting sound that makes you wonder what influenced them. Oddly, you get a flavor of Japan and Asia in some of the composition: as though you were walking through a Tokyo night and the local sounds, strangeness and beauty of the city. Against that, some more defined and sturdy beats come in and OK gains new light and traction. It is difficult creating a song that is composition-heavy and pulling it off. So many modern musicians lack necessary inventiveness and intellect to captivate the listener. Tamu Massif presents a composition that has so many different stages and elements together but retains a singularity and focus. Into the final minute, the hero comes back to the microphone and seems like he needs answers still. Maybe his friend was kinder and purer; their paths never meant to continue together but it seems painful none-the-less. Despite the fact there are decipherability issues to some of the vocals, that is part of the appeal. The sheer emotion and weariness are more potent and memorable than anything: our man aghast and tired in the night; weighed down by the heartache and emotion on his shoulders. OK ends things with firework samples and crackling: those Italian firecrackers provide a suitably authority and appropriate finale. You have to sit back and take it all in when the song ends and might take a while to listen to it again. It is a personal and important song for Tamu Massif and one that will surely strike a chord with listeners who have gone through the same sort of experience. The finest and most compelling song in the Tamu Massif catalogue: let’s hope it features prominently on the new E.P. It is commendable pulling away from relationship dilemmas and concerning something else. OK is a fascinating number and one that will see Tamu Massif exposed to a wider audience and gain lots of new supporters and radio attention. Already, the song has picked up some great reviews and that will give it creator heart and inspiration. Mixed by Youth Lagoon & Perfume Genius associate Ali Chant (produced by Tamu Massif): OK is a stunning song that announced a very fine talent.
Tamu Massif has already achieved quite a lot in his career to date. Having been tipped by NME and enjoyed airtime on 6Music and Radio 1: not many new musicians can claim that. It is hard to get recognition and exposure on the nationwide stations so when it happens that honorific should not be underestimated. Massif will be doing no such thing and capatilsing on that momentum and patronage. There is an E.P. out soon and plenty of excitement and expectation surrounds it. Following his well-received E.P. Alba, I am sure his upcoming E.P. will build on that early promise and show new inspiration and influences. OK shows Massif is not a musician that stands still and is always developing his work. Supporting the likes of C. Duncan and The Japanese House live; there will be headline dates and key gigs in his calendar. All exciting times for the young artist. Dave Dixon’s alias is an intelligent, emotional character whose music has registered with a lot of people already. I feel Massif is deserving of more attention and followers. His social media numbers are solid and building but, when compared with some artists, one wonders whether his forthcoming E.P. will redress this. I see a lot of lesser artists with thousands of supporters and they do not deserve it. Perhaps they are image-heavy or get more focus on radio: Massif is a more honest and hard-working musician and I am sure his talent and graft will be richly rewarded. He will not quibble over social media numbers and such concerns: the demand and appreciation he is receiving prove how much love and support there is. OK is a fascinating glimpse into a wonderful musician who has taken a harrowing deterioration and turned it into something strangely gorgeous and inspiring. OK is not just a simple, acoustic-based song where the hero pours emotion out and is tear-stained and wracked. Massif understands this approach is likely to appeal to a certain listener, and because of this, consideration, intelligence and innovation have gone into his latest single – ensuring it registers and appeals to a wide range of music fans. It is a brilliant window into the as-yet-untitled E.P. and is certain to put Massif firmly in the musical forefront. He has already had his music played on our most influential stations but I have the sense he will grow even bigger and be afforded more chances further afield.
One feels Tamu Massif has an audience waiting internationally and is capable of breaking into new countries and continents. I am sure he will want to focus his attention in the U.K. for now: finance might be an issue and it is not practical jaunting abroad and performing around the globe. That said, one gets the impression it will not take too long before fortunes change and international gigs are going to be a reality. I say this with a lot of British musicians but there are U.S. opportunities and audiences who are latching onto our best acts. Looking about social media; I have seen a lot of British artists put their songs out and get heady praise from U.S. listeners. Perhaps there are quite a few British musicians playing across the U.S. but I am wary not as many as there should be. Again, perhaps another discussion for another day. It is hard to sum up Tamu Massif as there is a lot of mystery and intrigue about his music. That nom de plume is the name of a dormant subaquatic volcano: it gives you an insight into the emotional blend and dichotomy of his music. You have that beauty and safety but always feel like there could be an explosion at any moment. Thinking about the volcano, and where it is situated, it seems like a very apt name for OK’s author. He splits his time between Weston-super-Mare and London and is one of those artists you know is going to be playing for years to come. It is hard to stand out in the industry as there are so many like-minded musicians aiming for the same goals. Tamu Massif seems stress-less and relaxed against the pressures of the modern age. Although OK looks at a friendship on the rocks: you feel, away from the studio, Davie Dixon has a plan and knows where he wants to head. I urge people to go see Tamu Massif live and be brought into a very magical and entrancing world. The reviews he has already accrued speak for themselves. I have talked about cliché and predictable subjects in music and I feel it is a problem that will blight a lot of new music. We have all heard the Pop star talking about bad love and these tropes are putting people off – many of us want something new and less obvious. Tamu Massif has gone through relationship quandaries and knows it is important to assess that. OK stands out because it moves away from that and addresses a unique and idiosyncratic event. Not only does the originality stand out but the way it is delivered. Not just confining himself to vocal-and-guitar easiness: sound effects, bass, and electronics are weaved together to create a tangible and evocative number. If you have grown weary of the unsophisticated and simple musician that is incapable of connecting with the heart and soul then you should definitely spend some time with Tamu Massif. The dormant-volcano-under-the-water-cum-Somerset-innovator is a curious blend and incredible young talent. OK will lead to an E.P. and that E.P. is going to mutate to future releases. It is a good time for Tamu Massif: his latest single is…
THE start of some very big things.
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