Life Aquatic Band
The Fault is available at:
OCTOBER is now upon us and I have been thinking about...
the bands and artists that will make an impact in 2017. It has been an eventful and prosperous (musical) year: one where some heroic albums have come about; artists that could well last many years to come. Over the last nine months; I have been delighted by the variation and courage coming across. Maybe this year has not quite seen some future stars pop through – those acts you know will be around for the long-term – but I have seen plenty of artists that will be making music (I am sure) for a very long time. Success and critical acclaim is something I want to mention first; looking at the bands up the country that are showing originality and ways the music industry can support the finest acts emerging. Before I come to Ben Allen’s Life Aquatic Band; it would be shrewd to start by investigating what we (myself to a degree: journalists and the media) can do to support musicians better. I am still finding too many disgruntled and angry artists that are being spat out by promoters and critics – having to fight in the trenches without necessary support. I am not suggesting every single act should be lauded and promulgated by critics and P.R. bodies – that would be impossible, unfair and unrealistic to the say the least. What I mean is so many terrific musicians are getting bum deals and being overlooked. Whether reviewers are overlooking their music or promoters are being rather deceitful. I am naming no name – of the musicians involved – but it is troubling finding so many unhappy people in the industry. I guess it is challenging ensuring everyone is given a fair shake: music is such a busy, crowded and undisciplined industry; things like this are bound to happen. Going forward, one begs the question: is there a way to encourage new musicians in but ensure (those that arrive) are cared-for more astutely and there is a great sense of fairness? It might seem like an unconnected point – like so many of my ‘tangents’ are – but it applies to every musician I review. With regards Ben Allen and his band, Life Aquatic Band: one knows some warranty and guardianship is going to be needed. They are a fine young act that although led by Allen, are a collective that has been together for a little while now.
Life Aquatic Band are one of many young acts around Sheffield and the Midlands that make me feel there are some areas that need more exploration. I was thinking the same thing during my recent review of Sheffield-based band FloodHounds – a group that ensures many eyes are cast to Yorkshire. Life Aquatic Band is split – in terms of lineage and heritage – between Sheffield and Leicester and, once more, shows there is more to music than that which emanates from London. I know I am guilty of keeping my sights honed to London but I’m discovering there are some agile and wonderful artists playing all around the U.K. Perhaps the lack of opportunities and quietness – a subject I have raised so shall not go into too much detail – is forcing artists to abandon their hometowns and flock to the city. The knock-on effect of that is the over-crowding and suffocation. I am finding a lot of London-based acts struggling to get gigs and earn money due to the sheer weight of competition. To my mind, there is still more quality and variation to be discovered in bigger cities (as opposed to the towns) but Life Aquatic are a band who seem to be settled where they are. It is not something I will beat around much, only to say there is plenty of activity happening around the U.K. Not too much is known about the Midlands band except an intriguing name – not to be confused with the 2004 Wes Anderson-directed film. If the guys omit the ‘the’ that is not to say they do not boast a comparative blend of eccentricity, quixotic and richness. I am not sure whether their name was directly inspired by the film but it gets one thinking. In terms of the social media output and transparency – there is a definite sense of secrecy or lack of backstory. The music sings loudest and tells you a little but it would be savvy were the band to put a bit more of themselves on the page. I often bring this up with regards musicians that keep it bare on social media. Given the competition, usefulness of social media and short attention spans of listeners – not many excuses for musicians to be a little remiss with regards biography and detail. I suppose Life Aquatic are fairly new off the block so the flesh will arrive in the coming months. The bones are awfully sturdy and exciting (negating some of the shortfall) but it would be good were they to campaign for interviews. Getting some blogs/journalists pressing them and probing will not only promote them/the music but provide that all-important revelation and personalisation. That should be present in their intentions and I am sure many would love to quiz Allen and how he got things started.
Part of what distinguishes Life Aquatic Band and sets them up is that original sound and eagerness. It is incredibly tough ranking new bands as there are so many out there – many of whom are playing the same sounds. While Life Aquatic Band have some like-minded peers: what one gets from my featured artists is the unwillingness to replicate other groups. You hear so many bands/musicians that mention their influences without bringing their own personalities into music. It can be depressing suffering through so many acts knowing just what they are trying to do – copycat their heroes – and that is a problem that needs to be tackled. Happily, Life Aquatic Band are not a group that makes you think about artists. They have their influences (I shall touch on this in the main review) but, for the most part, the freshness and originality overcome. They play Indie and Alternative but imbued with more melody and character than so many out there. Although Life Aquatic Band are, in their Facebook words, an experimentation between university students – it is Ben Allen who is up-front and the centre. Jonny Poole is producer (on The Fault) and is a long-term collaborator with the band. It will be fascinating finding out how Allen and the band progress and what they come up with next. The Fault is a song born out of a creative need for expression and a fine vein of inspiration. Few can deny there is a lack of energy and originality in the camp of Life Aquatic Band; that will lead to some wonderful things in the coming year. The Fault has garnered a handful of effusive comments but deserves wider exposure and spotlight.
The Fault is the latest cut from Life Aquatic Band and the finest statement so far. Some fans will prefer the slightly earlier work but I think The Fault captures because of its stunning production and nuance – a song that you will come back to and manages to get straight into the head. I will go into more depth but it is worth taking a closer look at the past work from Allen. What I Did was released a few years ago and is a sparse and atmospheric song that features dual vocals (Chloe Hayward; one assumes)- then, The Native consisted Chloe Hayward and Ben Allen. Part of the What I Did Sessions; the raw and sensual Blues licks and interplay shines through. Both voices have time in the spotlight but are at their strongest when united and blended together. Our hero is slowing down and finding the pace of life a little tough. His actions are not speaking louder than words and one can hear that confusion and anger – not knowing where things went wrong in life. The musicianship throughout is superb and so many emotions and colours come out of the guitars. Lyrically, it is personal but has a universal side to it. Allen has a whiskey-soaked croon and carries the song with that gravitas and emotion. Allen looks around and seeks answers: why he is being treated this way and why life is spitting him out. It is quite a harsh and emotive subject but one that never feels too heavy and intense. Guitar licks give What I Did a sense of movement and groove; the dueted segments are passionate, rich and graceful. I’m Alright is even more tender and evocative than its counterpart. Yearning strings and spine-tingling notes reign from the speakers and get into the heart. Of course, these recordings were made during the incarnation of The Native. Even though the songs were recorded a few years back: one can hear some nods to the current work and the themes being explored. Perhaps more personal and insular than tracks like The Fault; bringing more Folk elements into the music. I Met Myself Today, Political Song #1 and What I’ll Be are the most recent songs from Life Aquatic Band and show different inspirations and sounds. I Met Myself Today is a gentle and touching song that finds Allen musing about life with a hole in his head – looking out the window and is a contemplative mood. Acoustic strings are spirited and riparian; the interplay of voices creates a depth and touching beauty to the song.
Political Song #1 finds Allen evoke memories of early-days Bob Dylan to an extent – certainly in terms of guitar playing. The themes are similar but have a modern edge. Challenging racism and the types the champagne-guzzling types – it is a song with a clear conscience and anger. Maybe motivated by recent political events – the song was released a year ago – it seems to have predicted Brexit dislocation and the rise of Trump. Among the racists and voting public: Allen seems aghast at the elements in society that are either disproportionally wealthy or struggle to get their voices heard. It is a song that deserves fonder unpicking and one that seems to be ever-relevant and speaks for so many people. What I’ll Be sees Allen go more into Dylan-esque realms (released about six months ago) and expose a real talent for pronunciation and delivery. Words are emphasised and elongated; precise at times and stretched the next. The blasé and ignorant are assessed in the song. Those that do not take medication and have a casual attitude to life and wisdom. It is another interesting song whose lyrics go beyond the ordinary and highlights a talent with an original voice and special take on life. You get drawn into the song and get lost in the gripping narrative and wonderful characters being assessed. It is here you get the biggest impression of a full-band sound. Gone are the male-female vocal bond and slighter Folk sound. Now, on What’ll Be, is a deeper and fuller sound with percussion and accompanying strings. It retains the Folk basis but steps into Indie without compromising the established sound of Life Aquatic Band. You can hear the development and growth throughout those three songs and an act growing stronger and more assured. Allen is a prolific and strong songwriter who seems able to take his lyrics in all sorts of directions and speak to people directly. This is true of The Fault which takes off from where What’ll Be finishes and shows Life Aquatic Band at their absolute peak.
The aforementioned song has been shared across Facebook and one feels would be a great inclusion on a future E.P. It is the strings combination that intrigues and first noticed on the song. Scuffed and racing acoustic/electric notes blend with yearning Classical sounds to provide a mixture of emotions and possibilities. You are intrigued by the more seductive and restrained half but wonder if the accelerated sound will overtake and define the track. Despite the balance and difference of the two parts: it hangs together beautifully and gives The Fault a terrific start. The hero races and gets his words out with urgency. He lies awake in bed and feels a sense of suffocation and self-doubt. Maybe motivated by a general weight – issues in life and doubts about his role – or a particular person – the lyrics strike straight away and get into the mind. Looking out the window in a state of ecstasy: he has another body next to his; perhaps ignoring those out the window. “Don’t medicate my mind” Allen sings: it is not his time and he seems to be shrugging off the hands of those trying to control him. Perhaps the most oblique and inscrutable song from Life Aquatic Band so far – it is also one of the most realised and adventurous, too. The strings jump and dance and give the song a fluidity, unexpectedness and spirit. Not quite pure Folk or fully embracing Alternative sounds: a track that is hard to pin down but one that will fascinate you in every moment. Not sure what is up with constant grieving – “I’m only leaving” – you get investigations of mortality and, one suspects, love. The lyrics paint a picture of a man who has someone with them but perhaps things have just ended. The Fault gives impressions of earthquakes and fault lines; caught between tectonic plates and experiencing a natural disaster. If you delve more into the lyrics; one gets flickers of a man who needs to run and escape but is trying to reconcile with the here and now. It is hard to define and explain but everyone will have their own interpretation of events. What fascinates me most is how the words are delivered and accompanied. Allen’s inflections and change-of-speed-and-direction style mean every line sounds different and resonates.
Few singers and musicians take the time to differentiate and distinguish their words but Allen is keen every sentiment hits the mark. Backed by constantly engaging strings – one wonders how many other musicians went into the mix – it is a song that continues to grip with every second. “You can’t fear what you cannot know” is one of the deeper lines: arriving after a machine-gun roll of ecumenical asides and tangles with self-investigation and social philosophy. Allen is a songwriter who portrays love and life scenarios but avoids tropes and clichés. In fact, it is not until several listens down the line one starts to get a better understanding of what is being said. It is a song that will always see various people speculate and question where it originates. On the one hand, there is a potential relationship quandary and conversation between two lovers. Perhaps they are on different pages and each trying to explain their sides. On the other, one feels there are more general and personal themes being addressed. The hero clearly has a desire to change life and discover something purer – oblique lyrics and some intelligent wordplay always keep true origins a little clouded. That not only makes the song one you feel compelled to revisit but showcases a songwriter who wants to keep some his cards close to the chest. Woozy electronic guitars (just after the chorus) have little smatters of The Coral whilst the chorus itself is hard to compare with anyone. One of the great things about Life Aquatic Band is how they remain beyond comparison and seem to be doing their own thing. The Fault is constantly spirited and energetic. The guitars rouse whilst the vocal delivery is impassioned and determined throughout. If it is hard to truly crack the enigma that is Allen’s mind; you have a blast diving into the song and speculating.
The Fault is a song that has a live sound to it and one that will go across very well in the live setting. I would love to see the song performance and how crowds react to it. The Fault is not restricted to a certain audience and genre and, as such, could find appreciation on many different radio stations. I have heard similar songs premiered on ‘6 Music and that would be something I could see happening – The Fault played on one of their shows. By the final notes; you want the song to continue. If mortality is inane and pointless; if our hero is only being who he is – you are thankful he remains one of the most original and fresh songwriters around. Like I said a bit earlier: I can imagine an E.P. coming and would love to hear The Fault on it. I am not sure how Life Aquatic Band is set-up with regards its membership. Clearly, at various junctures, there are other musicians and collaborators that come into the fold, but for the most part, it is Allen who shines through. Jonny Poole’s production should not be overlooked. He manages to bring all the disparate threads and ambitions together cohesively and give the song a polish (so you can understand what is being sung) but ensures its beating heart is quite raw and open. That is a hard trick to pull off so congratulations should be delivered his way. A stunning song from an artist (and band) that continues to impress and grow.
Life Aquatic Band changed their name from The Native to L.A.B. The name might have changed but the music and talent have remained firm and impressive. The Fault has lo-fi charm and a homemade feel but a song that could easily seduce across a number of radio stations. I have mooted the possibility of more material and it would be good to hear an E.P. from the collective in 2017. Ben Allen is a prolific and standalone songwriter and not someone who rigidly sticks to the tried-and-worn subjects of love and relationship perils. The music world is flooded by those kinds of acts and we need to embrace those who are more striking and thoughtful. From penning politically-motivated numbers to those that cast a net on societal imbalances – an intelligent and sage songwriter who pens songs with meaning and food for thought. Against this serious penmanship is an accessible and engaging set of compositions that is sure to catch the ear of outlets bigger than I. Most bands are quite obvious and have a clear-cut history and straight lineage. There is a lot more than meets the eye when it comes to Life Aquatic Band. Allen has been writing for a long time but there is a bit of mystique when it comes to other members and bandmates. Essentially, the partnership of Allen and producer Jonny Poole defines the music and is a bond I hope to see continue for a long time to come. It is challenging remaining in music and managing to get the focus of labels and venues. I have speculated before – ways to make it easier for artists to get their just dues – and it is something that has no easy answer. As with any profession – those who want to succeed and climb – you just need to persevere and keep your head held high. So many have called it time and found the lack of attention too much to handle; money stresses and little gig opportunity has meant some fantastic acts have ended way before their time. The ones that endure and transition into the mainstream are those that keep the soul strong and find ways to overcome hurdles. Similar in tone and nature to the earlier incarnation of Life Aquatic Band – that gentility and stunning beauty reigns through. Among the heart-stopping notes and wonderful Folk strings – there are some heavy subjects and weighty issues being address. Allen is looking into himself and comes with an air of inscrutability. You get a sense of a man carrying on and persevering but not sure if life in general or love’s perils are causing heartache.
It is quite sad and angering there is no more in place to safeguard and secure great music. I feel we are in an age where music-making is easier and affordable as ever. D.I.Y. productions and sounds are starting to overtake studio-made music – the sheer cost of stepping into a studio is putting so many off. I am rather split about the debate and find advantages in both camps. Studios need to survive and continue as they are the natural house of music. If you did not have studios then music would suffer and be less rich; you would not have the variation and quality that we have at the moment. It is axiomatic to say inflation will always exist and mean costs are going to keep rising. Studio bosses and chiefs have to make a living but, to my mind, the prices are higher than they should be. How many bands have to work second jobs and busk endlessly just to be able to get into a studio and record a single track? It is a depressing statistic and realisation we are facing. In terms of overriding and controlling the issue; what can we do about it? D.I.Y. recordings, as I said, are favoured by many as they provide a less expensive option for new musicians. If you can afford a microphone, basic recording equipment and whatever instruments you need: a world of music awaits and the chance to put together a song/E.P./album. Technologies like iPads and tablets are providing musicians with an array of sounds and effects; gadgets and a one-click connect to the wider world. This is an option for many but not a realistic, long-term solution. Luckily, there are artists that manage to balance the expense of the studio with the honesty of home-made recordings and ensure their career continues. Ben Allen’s Life Aquatic Band is mainly homely and small-scale but someone who has seen time in the studio. Perhaps finances will dictate and limit his scope going forward but one hopes he manages to get a few days in a studio and lay down a three/four-track E.P. The past year has been eventful and seen the band/project develop and strengthen. The Fault is the most confident and instant song from the band so far and warrants airplay across national radio for sure. Whether that will arrive and how long it will take; it is hard to ignore the quality and talent that runs throughout The Fault.
I will sign-off by recapping and summarising the earlier points about artists outside the capital and what artists can do to aid themselves. Sheffield-based Life Aquatic Band are making sure Yorkshire is in the mindset and getting focus. I have extolled the virtues of Leeds in past posts – a city that is more varied and unique than any others – and what a variation they have. That is the thing with Yorkshire: a county that mixes genres and time periods and is not as rigid and commercial than London. I find Yorkshire’s musicians are contemporary and fresh but there are those who evoke past times and bring together oft-forgotten musical styles and give it a retro. gleam. From the ‘30/’40s-Swing movements-via-Electro. of Little Violet (who return soon) to a cavalcade of Doo-Wop/Bluegrass artists – a colourful and wonderful world of music. London musicians are capable of this kind of quirkiness and wonder but not to the same scale. Ben Allen is a musician who has one foot in the future and one eye to the past. His lyrics address the modern world and concerns but the compositions and sounds tie together strands of other genres and ideas. I have rambled enough so shall end it by recommending Allen and Life Aquatic Band keep going strong and make a lot more music. Get the social media pages fuller – a few more photos and some biography perhaps – and update the Twitter account – it has not been used or utilised for a long time. One of the ways of getting the music to new ears is to gain new fans. If social media pages are sparse and there is less self-promotion then it is going to be hard getting people engaged and discovering what you do. The Fault is a great song and there is a world on Twitter that would love to share it. The song needs more pushing and if the Twitter account is not properly maintained then that can mean a lot of fans will pass by. Allen is a great songwriter and someone who can attract legions if he wants. Hopefully, he will get onto that and show confidence in his music. On Facebook, there is more movement and followers but one feels more people are out there. I guess full recognition and popularity will come with more music and one feels 2017 is the year Life Aquatic Band get that nod. More stable and defined than ever before: keep your eyes firmly on a wonderful musical force. The Fault is a brilliant song that shows Life Aquatic Band are one of Britain’s standalone acts and have ammunition to keep playing for many years to come. Put the song on and turn it up loud…
AND get carried away.
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