Numb is available at:
The E.P. Beast Side is available to stream here:
I am always keen to investigate solo artists...
because they offer something you just don’t get from bands and other artists. There are a lot of solo artists emerging and it is really interesting hearing all the different sounds and genres. I find there’s some dissatisfaction with the best in the mainstream so we should be looking to the underground for the replacements and successors. If you feel all new music is weaker than that of the past: you should dig deeper and you will ably find some truly accomplished and fantastic musicians that have the potential to endure and keep on many music for a very long time. Before I come to my featured artists – who fits into my first point very well – he brings up a couple of themes worth exploring in more depth. I wanted to look at Soul/R&B crossovers and artists that blend emotive lyrics into this sound; looking at the musicians that make their way to some rather prominent names and how they achieve this. What we are seeing – in terms of the mainstream – is greater acceptance of lesser-heard genres and more experimentation from the artists. You still get Pop acts and some rather bland and over-produced artists that seem to have a large fanbase and plenty of appreciation. It is rather angered to hear some many of these types of artists remain on the scene and be celebrated. It is not just be ranting and imposing my own tastes: how do these types of act manage to get successful and why are people listening to them? I am talking about those Pop acts that have committees writing their songs and whose vocals are processed to the extreme. It is such inorganic and pointless music it is almost a form of brainwashing. Luckily, the consumer is showing more discretion lately and we are finding more credible and daring musicians being given proper attention and respect.
I have mentioned Skepta (after his Mercury win) and how we might see a turning towards Grime; maybe a genre that can infiltrate the mainstream and actually start to get the recognition it deserves – a topic I shall flesh out more in my review of Signal (tomorrow). One feels the next few years will see the lesser artists and rather cloying musicians start to be channeled out and hopefully reduced to the sidelines. R&B/Electro. blends are coming into fashion and being used by quite a lot of young solo artists. It has not just come across overnight but has been slowly making its presence known. We all have affection for Rock and the harder, more anthemic parts of music but one cannot deny the appeal and beauty you can find in R&B. What a lot of modern artists are doing is combining the pureness of R&B (elements of the ‘70s and ‘90s) with the modern sounds of Electro. Whilst a lot of the songs (you get in this area) concentrate on love and break-ups: there is a lot of variation and depth to be discovered.
It is hard to say what lies behind the resurgence of R&B and why it is favoured by a lot of solo artists but we are seeing so many great and promising musicians emerge and bring their inimitable and unique take to the genres. Tom Bem is someone who is distinct and standout in a world of hungry and ambitious solo artists. Before I carry on – and talk more about his work – let me introduce him to you:
“Tom Bem, Artist / Producer from South East London merges his distinct production of Electro RnB with his thought provoking lyrics in emotive fashion. Tom has written with and produced for an array of artists that span from double Ivor-Novello award winner Christ Difford (Squeeze) to Bastille.
As an artist Tom’s sound is distinctive thanks to his unmistakable voice, individual production sound and his unique guitar playing, making it very difficult to compare him to any other artists.
Tom Bem presented himself as an artist last year, releasing EP ‘Pass It On’, which reached download limits within a month, and helped his Sound Cloud exceed plays of 140,000 last year alone. In 2013, Tom played across the UK supporting acts such as Tinchey Stryder, Sway, Amelia Lilly and Loveable Rogues and has always had fantastic reactions to his performances.
Tom’s latest work comes in the form of ‘Shallows’, a concept EP of love and betrayal. Shallows features two co-writes with classical composer Dexter Britain, fusing Tom’s electro dub and soulful voice with emotive string arrangements, creating his most honest and vulnerable work yet”.
I have extolled the virtues of a lot of musicians on the scene but few have the talents and dynamics of Tom Bem. He is a multi-instrumentalist and producer that pretty much take care of music all on his own. There are a lot more D.I.Y. musicians coming about that produce and record themselves but Bem is someone who can achieve that and not fall into the trap of many of his peers. One of the issues with musicians that deal with instrumentation and songwriting on their own – not bringing other musicians into the fold – is that the music can sound rather rushed and clichéd. What you get are those eager young musicians that want to show they are independent and self-sufficient but tend not to take the time to think about making some original and nuanced. Although Bem unites with other producers and talent: it is his voice and D.N.A. that shines through. The little things are important when you consider Tom Bem. His official website has some beautiful artwork on it and clear and easy-to-access links. You get all the information you can want and it is very easy to navigate. It might sound like an insignificant point but it is vital for the new fan. When you get to his official site (link at bottom of review) you are treated to all Bem’s work and biography; some great photos and all the social media links. It is things like this that have separated him apart from many of his peers – too many new musicians do not take the time to think about things like their official website. Tom Bem has been fortunate enough to work with names as lofty as Squeeze’s Chris Difford to Disclossure. Many musicians would kill to have that on their C.V. but Bem has not achieved this through the virtue of his looks and youth. He is a talent that is not only an exceptional musician and songwriter but someone who is willing to be vulnerable and soul-baring through his art. This is a something that is hard to do but can pay dividends – if it is done right. It is not rare for musicians to unveil their innermost emotions and show fragility. In fact, it is quite a common currency but can get a bit samey. Depending on how it is presented and what music you put behind (those lyrics) can make all the difference. Bem is never keen to reveal everything and look for pity: he is an honest artist that shows his hurt but never asks the listener for sympathy or comes on too strong. Backed by that unique and wondrous blend of R&B smoothness and teasing Electro. and the combination is incredible.
Beast Side is the current (stunning) work from him but not the first offering. Tom Bem has been releasing music for over five years now and has brought out quite a few E.P.s It is impressive finding a young artists that has that much inspiration and material in his locker. Be Silent was out four years ago and a three-track that followed on from the much-lauded, Bête Noire. If that E.P. painted images of bad dreams and nightmares then Be Silent looked for some quiet and consideration. What you find with Bem’s work is the title gives you insight into the nature of the material. Songs like The Marionette are vivid and glistening; polished and sleek but edged with a sense of sadness. The song’s lead/subject has a voice telling them to leave: they are unable to and feel a sense of confusion and fear. It is a song that has a sensual and beautiful vocal and rides clicked beats and chocolate-smooth electronics. Nods to artists like Prince and Michael Jackson can be found yet Bem puts his own stamp on ‘80s R&B and Soul. Pass It On arrived shortly. Whereas Be Silent played more in the wheelhouse of R&B from the past: Pass It On was a much more modern and chart-primed E.P. that was fresher and more urgent. Perhaps more spirited and optimistic than its predecessor: Bem showing how nimble he was and able to show new creative sides and lyrical inspiration. The production was more polished which did take some of the genuine emotion and rawness from the music. While the songs stay in the head and resonated with many people; there is a feeling it is a little bit over-produced; one yearns for some more depth and emotion from Bem. Not that one could criticise the E.P. as it was another great step and assured work from a young man not willing to settle and repeat himself.
Shallows showed yet another new direction and came back to the earlier work of Tom Bem. There were sunnier and Pop edged to be found but, by and large, the abiding mood is one of reflection and personalisation. Plenty of rush and energy comes out in Shallows but there is a definite leaning towards passion and emotional outpouring. Looking at jealousy in love and imbalance: the most mature and rounded work of Bem’s career to date. Someone Else boasts a fine and memorable chorus that is huge and graceful - tinged with sadness and pertinent questions. Captain matches quirky notes and spacey electronics together with rampant beats and tremulous vocals. Bem at his most shivering and delirious here – showing just what his voice can achieve; it covers so much ground throughout the song. Beast Side, aside from its incredible cover art, seems like a natural compassion for Shallows and contains more similar threads. You have the solid and variegated compositions – that go from old-school R&B to modern Electro. – and the vocals seem even more elastic and profound than before. With each new E.P., Bem seems to add colours and weight to his voice and that all comes to the fore. The biggest changes are the production and confidence together with lyrical themes. The production is less polished than previous work which allows more naturalness to come out. The record is not too shiny and it means you have an E.P. that is live-sounding and raw as it needs to be. With that, there is less consideration towards the charts and fitting into the Pop mould.
One thing that worried me about E.P.s like Be Silent was a sound of a young man trying to fit alongside the worst of the mainstream – betraying his talent and full abilities. Beast Side is Bem as his own man and changing his tones. Less mournful, sensitive and tender than Shallows: it is a more toothsome, attacking and sexualised E.P. I find comparisons with Michael Jackson and his transformation from Bad to Dangerous. The former was defined by its smooth and heartfelt love songs with the odd flash of grit and anger (Leave Me Alone). Dangerous was Jackson angry and in more defiant mood. Love songs tended to be more accusation and cynical tones: a tougher, leaner and more masculine voice came out. Bem, on Beast Side, is reacting to hurt and deceit and coming out on top. That is not to say there is chauvinistic attitude and indiscretion ruling the music. The title track – as I will detail – is one of the most vulnerable and heartfelt songs he has created but there is a shift to grittier and spiked subjects in the E.P. It is rewarding finding a musician that continues to grow and react to his changing circumstances. Maybe he has had his heart broken but not going to let it get to him. In a way, Beast Side is like a concept that starts from numbed and pained beginnings and ends in an explosive song in Kalashnikov. On WHDK; Bem combines with Effie – someone I have reviewed before – and it is wonderful hearing him bring other singers into the fold. Beast Side is the most complete, consistent and memorable work from Bem and one that will see you come back time again. It is not just reserved for his fan-base and is capable of bringing in plenty of new fans. It is the opening track that interests me most and one I have been compelled to investigate.
Numb is a song that starts with a bit of tease and build-up. A little bit of electronic warp and racing beats give the song some early intrigue and settle. That restraint does not last long as everything starts to get tense and more sexual. Whilst I mentioned Numb was a revealing and vulnerable song from Bem: it is, but more in a sexual way rather than emotive. He has never before shown this side to his soul – one that seems to have abandoned patience and flirtation and is going right for the jugular. “She’s frustrated, I’m inpatient” he says – giving you an insight into what path the song will follow. If his soul and sense of trust has been numbed then so too is that sense of demure and foreplay. Like a beast on the prowl; he wants to capture the girl and make her feel numb. That sense of sexual anesthetisation and surrender gives the track a definite sweatiness and knee tremble. One can practically imagine Bem roaming around the night – perhaps at a club or bar – and hunting for a woman. At no stage is the song vulgar or crass and it is a slice that could have been taken from Prince’s back catalogue. I hear a lot of Prince in the vocal and lyrics and that is quite a revelation. Never has Bem sounded quite as grown-up and desirous as he has here. Past E.P.s has seen him explore emotions and his damaged heart; he has provided elliptical numbers and sunshine but never sounded as raw and close to the bone. “Don’t you want it?” he declares backed by sizzling electronics and savage beats - one of his most explosive choruses – and it is a song that springs into life. I have mentioned how Bem does not fit into the Pop mainstream mould and that is true here. While there is a little taste of mainstream Electro. and Pop artists – that same electronic sound and lyrical breakdown – Bem’s voice and clear musical direction steers him away from obvious comparisons. Numb sets Beast Side up perfectly and defines the E.P. with ease.
Through every note he is in command and completely authoritative. You feel him close in and get close to the girl. Maybe she is reluctant and a bit hesitant to submit to someone so pressing and confident. Warning the girl to give in to her primitive and primeval side: our hero wants to cage her and ensure she is fully under his spell. It seems like there is backstory with the two and he has been waiting to get her alone for the longest time. That frustration, tied with an un-quenched sexual thirst, makes the song palpable and urgent from start to finish. Each new line reveals more of the plot and sees the duo get closer to one another. The girl seems to be resisting for a while but, like prey in the wild, there is only so much running you can do before the energy collapses and you have to accept your fate. I am making it sound rather seedy and sworded but that is not the case here. It seems like a mutual call and the two are circling one another. Our hero wants to feel numb and has a need to get his rocks off but there seems to be more to it. Seeing as his girl is someone he has affection for and been keen of for a bit: maybe plans of a relationship and love are in his mind. Backed by some solid and polished production values – not too much though – the song blends raw and primal undertones with something luscious and honeyed. The song gains its stripes with repetitions and familiarity. Many artists might want to put too much story in and risk losing the listener. Numb is a song that has many possible moves and chapters but Bem ensures he keeps the words simple and grounded. Numb’s strength arrives when it comes to the chorus and mantras. That question he poses to the girl – why does she not want it – and the intention of making her/him numb keeps coming around. Not only will it find listeners and live crowds singing along but it makes the song instantly memorable and addictive.
PHOTO CREDIT: Rebecca Need-Meanear (http://www.rebeccaneedmenear.co.uk/) Nick Byrne Design - Edit
After the reception of Shallows and the credit is accrued: many would forgive Bem for keeping on that same path and releasing another E.P. with the same themes and sounds. Credit to Tom Bem whose new work, Beast Side, is a more agile and hardened work. You get a bit more anger and attack but the production values and songwriting have all sharpened and improved. Constantly evolving and smoothing out any rough edges; getting stronger and more assured with every new release. Beast Side is an E.P. I recommend you check out. If you like Numb then you will find much to enjoy and love within the accompanying E.P. Although Numb deals with some tough issues – Bem states it is controlling the battle inside him and not letting the dark side rule him – you do not get a song that is suffocating and oppressive. Likewise, one does not feel bored or disengaged at any stage. It is still common for artists to deliver songs like Numb and either come across as a bit pretentious or generic. Bem suffers no such issues and puts his personality on the page. His music never suffers stereotype and predictability and everything is given a distinct lift due to his constant commitment and unending talent. All of this is expanded throughout Beast Side and it is going to be exciting seeing just how far Tom Bem can go. The London-based producer-musician has already achieved much in the last few years and he is in no mood to stop there. One of the difficulties for solo artists that play R&B/Electro. combinations is that there is quite a lot of competition to be found. These genres are becoming popular and are endlessly accessible. The questions will remain: how do you separate the wonderful from the plain? Yes, it can be difficult but I would advise some patience and discretion. In terms of the composition, the haunted and spectral electronic rushes meet alongside simple clicked beats and vocal processing. Bem’s lead is kept clean and natural but his voice is layered and utilised in the background to create more weight and conviction. Numb will appeal to those who love their R&B vintage and sexy but has enough commercial appeal to draw in those who prefer their music chart-destined. The London boy has created an original and impressive number that makes him a definite name to watch. Numb begins an E.P. that has some golden moments and is his best work yet. Make sure you check out this artist and experience a wonderful and engrossing song.
PHOTO CREDIT: Rebecca Need-Menear (http://www.rebeccaneedmenear.co.uk/)
Bem is definitely someone who is worth your time and long-term appreciation. Beast Side is a typically strong and nuanced set of songs from someone who is still finding their way through music. Tender in years and possessed of huge ambition and energy – let’s see just what can come about. I see him releasing an album in the next year and feel he has enough material to go into one. Maybe his P.R. guides will be advising him to hold off for now. The problem with an album is the sheer cost and tireless work that goes into it. If an artist is not quite ready or needs to take more time, then making an album can be a risky gamble and a lot of time wasted. It is the financial side that is the biggest concern for musicians and is putting many off. That is something I will look at a bit more and want to raise. I know there are a great deal of musicians around so why is the business of making music and recording not more affordable? Even in an age where technology is freely available and recording music is easier than ever – why are our studios so pricey?
Tom Bem is someone you would love to hear record an album but one wonders if the sheer expense involved in this is going to put him off. Even someone established like him might need a lot of time to raise the necessary finances. Maybe the proliferation of iPad-led recordings means fewer people are going to studios – thus, the prices are being raised. All pure musicians want to record and mix at studios but the bosses need to be more realistic with their pricing schemes; lest they repel a lot of great artists and risk putting the future of music at risk. Although Bem is unsigned and still making his first moves in music; it is going to be a very bright future indeed. I shall not put too much pressure on the shoulder of Tom Bem only to say that he should be thinking just what the future holds. His music has that translatable quality and is already favoured across the globe. It is not like he is working in narrow confines and his music is reserved for a chosen few. Although he is distinct and superior to many out there: that R&B/Electro. parabond is a popular dollar and one that many are willing to hear a lot more of. I know, in many of my reviews, I highlight nations like the U.S. and Australia. They are two nations – you can put Canada in the mix – that every new musician should set their sights to. In America, you have L.A. and New York; still huge markets for music and absolutely set-up for people like Bem. I would say L.A. is perhaps a little more favouable and suitable for his brand of music. Not to define a city but New York still favours the harder-edged musicians and bands. Yes, there are some great R&B acts in New York but I feel Los Angeles is a lot more suitable and hospitable in this regard.
PHOTO CREDIT: Tessa Michaelides
Maybe that is somewhere he will be looking to in the coming years – I know finances are, once more, going to put the kibosh on that sort of thing. Likewise, and perhaps even less likely, is a period in Australia. It is not just Melbourne and Sydney that would provide audiences and masses but Brisbane is another part of the nation worth exploring. Many of us overlook Australia for new musicians but the nation is still one of the most productive and consistent. Whatever is in Bem’s mind, he should take heart and pride from the reception his E.P. is gathering. Beast Side’s lead-off single is one that is gathering plenty of stunning feedback and it seems Bem has a huge army behind him. He may want to rest and take a breather before he takes his need charge but I am sure he has his own plans and goals. If you are bored of the raft of average solo artists out there then cast yourself adrift from them and latch onto Tom Bem. Someone who has that mainstream sound but is a lot more credible and distinct than 90% of musicians out there. Go discover him and let his music take you somewhere wonderful. Once it gets inside the head…
PHOTO CREDIT: Josh Lamptey
YOU won’t want it to get away.
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