PHOTO CREDIT: Jonny Finnis /COPYRIGHT: Marshall Records
Shine s available at:
Rock; Alternative; Indie
18th August, 2017
I have had to reorganise the order of my reviews…
because it is best to capture the freshness and energy of Rews’ latest single, Shine. Rather than leave it, like a doughnut, in the box to get a bit stale and hard – have a quick sniff a few days down the line – and, when taking that first bite, put it in the bin with regret: best to dive in to its warm, sugary and jam-filled goodness and get it at its purest. That might seem like an odd way to describe a song but, when listening to Rews, one is filled with different emotions and words. I shall come to assess the girls soon but, before then, talk about duos and women in music; the bond that ties musicians and how effective it can be to music; classic songwriting and why music lacks that right now; the first album and looking at the modern-day promotional campaign; getting to festivals and how that can build a song – the future of Rews and how they can translate and grow in the coming year. This is not the first time I have featured Rews so forgive any repetition in this review. Many, who follow the band, know the duo consist Collette Williams and Shauna Tohill. Their coming-together and friendship is one of the reasons why many people are fascinated. I am not sure how that initial meeting came to be but, with Tohill a Belfast resident – Williams based outside of London – it would have seemed unlikely. The fact they have been performing together for a long time – and seem stronger than ever – is a testament to how connected they are. One can argue many bands/duos have that say strength but I have not seen it as obvious. I wanted to look at duos because there is a surfeit of those sticking in the mind. I have lauded the duo and explained how it is the perfect number of people.
PHOTO CREDIT: Mike Rees Photography
You do not have the crowd and mass of a full-band nor the solitude of being solo: it is tight and focused and, if you are in a duo, you have to have that closeness and trust. Most duos, that I have found, are very close friends or, in a lot of cases, lovers. Despite the fact so many duos are around; I am finding few that are being heralded and enduring. To me, I think the media is still focusing on bands and solo artists – that established stock is what they cling on to and has that commercial value. Maybe there is something unknown and new about a duo. In terms of the mainstream; there are those like Tegan and Sara and Royal Blood – more on them later – but, in terms of the big releases, I feel solo artists have taken the top honours. In my view, the duo is that concise and fascinating combination that can, if done right, provide the same depth and sound as a band – more marketable and enduring than a solo artist. Your lone artist has to take care of everything and has to expend twice the energy as a duo. It can be a struggle getting everything together, promoted and performed. Naturally, many burn out, which is why I tend to stick with a duo – as they have that potential to remain on the scene and provide more consistent results. That is true of Rews who, as I type, have not long come off the stage of another gig. It seems like they are among the hardest-working acts around and they thrive from the energy and reaction the crowds afford them. Given the rise and popularity of duos like Royal Blood: there are a lot of people looking for like-minded artists that have the same sort of allure and power. The duo is much more complicated and can play Rock/Alternative; there are Folk and acoustic-based twosomes; those that perform Electro-Pop and R&B. It is not as rigid as one might think and, unlike a four-piece band, it seems there is more variation and nuance when it comes to sound and genre. Tohill and Williams have struck a chord and seem to be very much in demand – I have tried booking them a couple of times and they are definitely in the bigger leagues at the moment.
I have talked about women in music and still, in 2017, have to argue and fight. It is not a natural thing to speak of a female artist without feeling a slight sense of guilt and anger. There are more female duos coming through but it is only the last couple of years when female bands – that are not girl groups – have gained a critical ear. The morals and equity afforded male bands/artists have not been applied to female artists. Look at bands like Honeyblood, Haim; Warpaint and…well, I couldn’t think of a fourth, you see. There are so many great female bands coming through: so few that make it into the critical columns and get the attention they deserve. The acts I have mentioned are stunning and potential festival headliners. Yesterday I wrote a piece that highlighted Dua Lipa and her recent achievement: her song, New Rules, is the first female number-one single since Adele’s Hello – that song was top of the charts back in 2015. There is still an obvious imbalance and sexism in music but, without lecturing regards the festival issues – I shall address that in the conclusion – it is amazing there are fewer opportunities for women in music. Rews are a force of nature who is not concerned with being seen as second-best. They have been getting a lot of great gigs and gaining momentum. I wonder how far they would have come were they men. Their sheer talent and hard work have got them where they are: perhaps they would be a few steps up if they were male. That seems like an odd assumption but there is a definite preference, for festivals and bookers, towards male acts. The reason for addressing this point was to show how influential Rews are. They are not your manufactured and primed duo and, whilst they have a label behind them, they are not dictated to and defined. They have a lot of artistic freedom and do not have to compromise their ethics.
PHOTO CREDIT: Nick Kent Photography
There are a lot of female performers in genres like Folk and R&B but we still see the majority in Pop/the mainstream. That is an area of music where things get murky and unsettling – how many of those big Pop stars have their own say and are being marketed because of their music (their looks and sex appeal being proffered). I have explained how female Rock bands are coming through but it is a recent development and one we need to keep going. With some claiming Rock is dead – or its pecker needs a few blue pills and a few nights at a Paris hotel – any representation that imbues a genuine Rock spirit, and has that ability to evolve and survive, should be taken the bosom. Whilst other Rock acts are climaxing early, taking a cold shower and crying their way out of the hotel door – it is duos like Rews that are…well, I’ll drop the line of thought as it seems to lead us in rather a heated direction. In any case; I feel there should be as much focus paid to the girls of Rock as the boys. Maybe there is an institutional aspect to the argument: it has always been the case Rock/Alternative is a boys’ club and it seems strange the girls are coming to prominence. I wonder whether stubbornness is leaving many doors closed: I am hearted by the fact Rews are a guiding light for upcoming bands and a real source of inspiration for female artists. They, in an industry that is still make-dominated, showing they can mix it with the best of them. With every release and step, Rews continue to carve themselves out as a force to be reckoned with. There is no doubt they will be mainstream treasures very soon but the way they have grown the past few months is very exciting. Critical kudos and big gigs mean they have grown in confidence and seem more determined to push themselves as much as possible.
PHOTO CREDIT: Rosie Powell
There is a tight and unerring bond that glues Rews to the ground. It seems like Tohill and Williams are meant to be together and have that true simpatico. One sees it in some bands but you wonder what happens behind-the-scenes. If you have a quarter; how solid is every member going to be? There might be one or two that do not get on with the others quite as well – various bands will have issues at some point. Sure, there are a few that are rock-solid but it is a rarity. With Rews, one knows there are never any cross words and issues. One hears and sees the duo in-time and of one mind on the stage. When they come off, looking at their social media accounts, they hang together and have that shared love. The photos that come through are filled with smiles and posing. Like best friends or sisters; the girls are rock-solid and unbreakable. This might seem all very nice and sweet but it has a huge impact on the music. When you have musicians that are close and comfortable around one another; the music is a lot more free and genuine. I hear bands/duos and know the members are not quite as together as you’d imagine, Maybe there are fracture and frictions and that can compromise the nuance and promise of their music. Rews are fairly new on the block but I do not perceive growing success to be detrimental to their friendship. If anything, the bigger they get, the more excited and tighter Tohill and Williams become. It seems they are born to the stage and have been dreaming about success for a long time. Collette Williams is one of the best young drummers around and, apart from being a brand ambassador, has the power and ability of the best male stick-wielders around. I have seen a few bands that have a woman on drums – Saints Patience among them – and, I don’t know…there seems to be something different and exciting about them. Not to say male drummers are a spent and obvious force but one gets a different cadence, sensation and playing style with female drummers.
PHOTO CREDIT: Nick Kent Photography
Not only do Rews have a world-class and hungry drummer/singer in Williams: Shauna Tohill is a singer/guitarist/songwriter with few equals. She co-writes lyrics with Williams and, between them, they are incredible young writers. Touhill's shredding skills perfectly complement Williams’ percussion. There is a rawness and potency but they are, in every song, have that deep understanding. Without looking at one another; they are in-time and in-step. It sounds like they have been performing for decades and have that incredible tightness. Tohill and Williams are original songwriters who can pen a classic/arena-ready song but pen from their own perspectives – without falling into clichés and being too rigid. That ‘classic songwriting’ and style is something lacking in music. A lot of artists are producing great albums but there is nothing to tie them – in terms of themes and style. Whether a fantastic Hip-Hop record or a Pop nugget – one cannot easily draw a line between them. There is something about Rews that nods to the classic Rock legends but has a contemporary skin. The hooks and compositions are forward-thinking but will resonate with those who have that love of the giants of Rock. I am not sure what the record collections of Tohill and Williams look like but it is obvious they have affection for the biggest and boldest bands of all time; those legendary songwriters and the best of the modern market. It is not only Rock artists that feed into their music. One hears elements of Pop and Folk in their quieter portions. The girls have a deep knowledge of music but, rather than replicate their favourite acts, they sprinkle little bits here and there. Put all that together and one gets something memorable and familiar – instilled with a unique energy and effectiveness that cannot be understated. They are not a rigid act that produces the same song time and time again: every new jam has an original intent and goes in a different direction.
Tying into my next point, I wanted to address comparisons critics have made between Rews and Royal Blood. I might have fallen into the trap myself but there is something dangerous about comparing artists with others. It is flattering, I am sure, for Rews to hear they remind people of the Brighton duo but there are inherent flaws. For one, I feel Royal Blood’s latest album lacks any distinction and they are, rather worryingly, treading water on their second record. One wonders how their third album will fare if they rehash their latest effort – which is a slight tweak of their debut. The good thing about being compared with Royal Blood – D.J. Mark Radcliffe has made the comparison – is the fact the duo (Royal Blood) are doing so well. The boys are playing sell-out shows and are one of the biggest acts in the world. Many critics have reacted positively to their latest work and highlighted it as one of the year’s best. Being ranked alongside them can do no harm, for sure. The girls must buzz from that and the fact that Radcliffe quote is the one that is sent to people like me means they do not object. I find myself reaching for other quotes because, as much as anything, Royal Blood are a lot more limited than Rews. The girls project the same amount of force and rock as hard as the boys – that is where the comparisons end. In terms of songwriting; the Rews girls are much further ahead and more nimble. Royal Blood tend to focus too narrowly on love and the fall-out of relationships. It is a predictable and rather depressing hearing the same set of lyrics spread across an album. They could address the state of the world or something outside the box – the fact they do not, shows there is a very limited mindset which means they are not going to endure as long as they should. Rews, in Tohill and Williams, have songwriters that take from life but do not obsesses over broken hearts and wrong-doing boyfriends.
They address odd characters and observations from life; brief encounters and strange feelings. It is a heady concoction that means the songwriting palette of Rews is a lot broader and more exciting than Royal Blood. Another issue I have with Royal Blood is their compositional rigidity. There is nothing engrained in the Rock Rulebook that says it needs to be all meaty riffs and nothing more. The duo has been compared (unfairly) to The White Stripes who, in spite of the fact there were two of them, varied their sounds and stepped into Blues territory; used piano, marimba and other instruments – every album and song had its own identity. I know Rews will expend the same sort of character and variation down the line but there seems to be so many acts coming through that do not stray past the drum-guitar-vocal-with-big-riffs-and-steely-drums songs that the likes of Royal Blood keep churning out. Rews’ latest, Shine, is an emphatic and stunning track but one wonders whether their upcoming album, Pyro, will employ different instruments/sounds. Its title suggests fire and explosion so that would suggest a pure Rock experience. As phenomenal as Rews are; I feel comparisons to Royal Blood will do them more harm than good. There are many artists that are copying and duplicating Royal Blood’s sound which leads to a rather one-dimensional and stodgy brand. Rews deserve comparisons with the most-popular artists around but are a lot more appealing and malleable than Royal Blood. Their sound and connection is different; the songwriting vastly so and their music digs deeper and remains in the memory for longer. I shall not labour this point but feel they should have another quote on their P.R. emails/releases – one that recognises how unique they are and the fact they are going to last longer than Royal Blood. My point is the fact they have a fantastic sound that is not easy to link with anyone else.
PHOTO CREDIT: Nick Kent Photography
Before I look at Rews’ latest track; it is interesting watching the promotional campaigns of modern artists. Back when I was younger – many years ago, now! – a song got radio-play but then, after that, an album would sort of come out with little fuss. Aside from the odd T.V. spot here and there; it arrived and people would buy it. Now, it seems things are more much structured and elongated. I have been arguing with myself whether that is the best way to do things but, in the case of Rews, it seems perfect for their music. Their sounds and instant and fast but, if they promoted their music the same way, it would be damaging to their career. The modern market demands a certain savviness and strategy and, when they release a new single, they put maximum effort in. One might get a teaser clip on Facebook and a few photos on Instagram. The girls will provide status updates and keep their fans informed and instructed. They are very smart when it comes to promotion and do not over-do things. I see too many artists strike a poor balance and ruin a promotional campaign. So many provide too many updates and endlessly drag a song/album out. By the time the song is out you are bored of it – they keep sharing it afterward - and it gets rather grating. There are others who do not do much promotion and keep their music confined to places like Spotify – not making videos or provided few updates. This is just as damaging and detrimental as doing too much. Rews, as said, have a team behind them but take charge of their social media. They know the right balanced and do not suffocate people with piecemeal information – drip-feeding a song until we are all fed-up of it. They do not relax and are constantly looking for ways to get their music to new people. The fact their music has reached people like Mark Radcliffe is down to them and their talent – and the way they promote everything they do.
PHOTO CREDIT: Paul Reynolds
I feel the future of Rews is very bright and prosperous. I will touch on this in the conclusion but know the girls have lots of dates coming up. They have already played festivals this year but, before summer ends, are getting themselves out there and taking advantage of the weather. Pyro is out on 3rd November and will be getting a lot of reviews when it is released. I am not sure how many new songs are going on the album – or whether they are putting all their previous singles into the mix. I guess it will, likely, be a collection of eleven/twelve songs that has a balance of older and brand-new. All of their songs hang together so they can sit on the album in any order without damaging the flow and personality of the record. Shine seems like a natural mid-album inclusion; Shake Shake to open; Death Yawn second – Miss You in the Dark and Can You Feel It? towards the end of the record. I know they will have a running order in mind but it seems, when the album is out, it will propel them to new heights. They have performed around the world but, in terms of international dates, the possibilities are endless. I can see a lot of American dates following and gigs in continents like Asia – maybe a few Australian dates in the pipeline. It is clear Rews are on an upwards trajectory and when the album comes out, it will do them a lot of good. Singles are great but many people move on rather quick. Having all that music is one place, and there being a physical product to buy, means the music will get into new hands and endure – those demands will increase alongside the popularity. The girls are a modern phenomenon and, as such, can choose their own path. They will want to take advantage of the gig demands but remain at home as much as possible. There are lots of spaces in London they have not played and areas I feel they have yet to conquer.
One is in no doubt Rews mean business from the opening seconds of Shine. Anyone expecting a Take That/Aswad-style song – given the title – are in for a shock because it is a stone-cold chugger that rocks and swaggers its way to the forefront. The guitars churn and drill with intent and force. Tohill creates something intense and menacing but there is melody and control at work. Rather than swing out of control and provide an aimless riff: she has penned something that compels the body to move but gets the mind working, too. Williams backs her with a solid backbone and driving percussion. The two show how connected they are and, looking at the video, so much emotion and expression goes into their performance. They are not lazily tossing a song out. Every note has meaning and they put their everything into it. The chorus, as one might expect, takes the song’s title to hand and projects it in a different way as one would imagine. The vocals, unlike previous songs, have a more dirge-like quality. It is an intense song and one that has a lot of emotion at heart. Previous jams like Shake Shake have been looser and contained Pop edges. Shine suggests something positive and sunny but, as Tohill sings, she cannot make a person shine. They have holes and rough edges; maybe it is a lover or downcast friend – someone not paying dues and showing respect that expects the heroine to life them up. Shine is a grittier and more serious track that previous Rews offerings. Tohill, all smiles on previous songs, is in no mood to suffer a fool. It seems like someone has been messing her around or asking for too much. Unlike previous tracks from the girls; there is an emphasis on the rugged and serious. There is a physicality and sexiness but a definite sense of control and gameplay.
Tohill has a huge emotional range and, as a singer and songwriter (with Williams), she demonstrates how wide-ranging her skillset is. Here, one gets recollections of Garbage’s first two albums. If many have compared Rews’ chug-and-slam to Royal Blood: the Scottish band comes to mind when hearing Shine. Elements of Version 2.0 (Push It; When I Grow Up) and Garbage (Supervixen; Stupid Girl) come through and one gets an interesting blend of 1990s Alternative-Rock and modern-day Alternative. One is amazed and intrigued by the shift in sound and the new influences being incorporated in the music. Tohill, as a writer, might be addressing a failed relationship or showing distain to someone too clingy and dramatic. Williams articulates a sense of sexuality and seduction. Her drumming, in the chorus, has the intensity and a singularity but possesses flourishes, roll and fills – a technical drummer who can matches emotion and intuition with a variety of expressions and asides. It is a fascinating performance that matches Tohill’s intoxicating guitars. I can see, listening to the guitar, where the Royal Blood comparisons come in. There is that same Grunge-cum-Rock blend that has a swampy and dark hue. It rumbles and groans but, if one listens closely enough, there are big differences. Shine seems, in a way, like a song that has a Pop/mainstream appeal. Its lyrics, one can compare to someone like Katy Perry or Taylor Swift, let’s say. The girls might balk at that but Shine is, as it is revealed, about a figure that turns head but can’t get any love. It has that sensibility that means it can be extrapolated and understood by teenage audiences – as well as older listeners. Both, in the video, exert an immense sexiness and intensity. Shauna Tohill, as a frontwoman, is commanding and a dominating presence. She has a tough and fiery skin but someone who exudes immense sexuality and intensity through her performance. The same goes for Collette Williams who summons a riot of sticks and pummel at the back. Both propel the song to immense heights. Whether the heroine gets satisfaction has yet to be seen.
Maybe there is that sexual coming-together but, thinking about the song’s title, it might refer to happiness and self-fulfillment or something closer to the bone (an orgasmic feel; unable to get the guy off). That might be a very male perspective so I’d like to assume, listening to the lysis, the guy has a slight anhedonia. There is a definite need for directness and satisfaction. Maybe the guy is complicated and it is not as simple as it seems. Tohill wants to get satisfaction but, given the guy is an enigma, that road to satisfaction is not easy. Maybe I am over-reading and it is from a third-person perspective. There is evidence to suggest the song’s hero reflects a general feeling of dissatisfaction and frustration. Tohill and Williams are lyricists who have always reflected their own stories (and the people they meet) – making me wonder if this is taken from the scent of her pillows or the back-pages of her imagination. Williams, always the nuanced player, creates some incredible fills and patterns that help augment the lyrics and give the song new drive. Rather than aimlessly pummel; she continues to plug and search – coming up with little inventions and avenues other drummers do not know about. Tohill’s guitar remains viper-like and beer-fuelled. I have mentioned Garbage as a possible influence but, listening to Shine, it could easily have fitted into the best of the 1990s – albeit, there is a lot more polish to the production compared with Garbage. “If you’re a stream/don’t let me in” it is said – our girl need an ocean to wade through. That is an intelligent line and one that can be interpreted a number of ways. Maybe that refers to a sexual challenge or the wholeness of the man – someone who is not quite the full package. Given the fact Tohill strides and growls in the song’s video – one cannot shake off that desire she has to be fulfilled and enriched, in body and mind. The song changes pace and mixes solos with the consistent chorus. There are drum runs and guitar firework: every new stage provides a different flair to the song. The video sees the girls daubed in glitter and tossing their bodies and hair; shots cutting quickly and both balancing sexuality and tease. It is an eye-opening and unforgettable shoot that perfectly fits the song’s energy and intoxicating spirit. It also shows how varied and progressive the duo is – always bettering themselves with every fresh release.
I have dug deep into Shine and, comparing it to their previous material, there are definite developments. I hear new shades and colours in their latest single and it seems, with every release, they get tighter and more confident as a unit. The production is perfectly suited to the song’s ethos and variations – not too polished or ragged. The girls combine beautifully and it seems like this song will be a standout from Pyro. I cannot wait to see whether they release another song before the November release-date or if they are going to stick to performance. Few can deny the magnitude of their music and I feel, as highlighted earlier, there is a mixed blessing being compared to the likes of Royal Blood. To highlight the fact is writing them off too easily. I am not a big fan of the boys and have grown a bit weary of their music – they have not adequately adapted and seem content to trot out the same songs time again. The most promising comparisons is when looking at live performances. Regardless of how samey their songs are: the way they translate them on stage is a biblical hurricane that blows away most of the competition. It is that link that excited me most. I have seen reviews of Rews’ live performances but yet to see them up-close. That is one of the ambitions for this year and, if I cannot catch them in 2017, will make sure I do soon after. There will be an album launch so I will do my best to get there. Before then, the girls have more dates coming out. They played The Belfast Empire last night and, presuming they are still there now, will be taking advantage of the city and enjoying its wonders – this is where Shauna Tohill hails. Rews play Graze Festival a week today – sounds like a rural-cum-hippy hoedown – but it might be an interesting date. From recent dates like London’s House of Vans to festival appearances at Glastonbury – they are a duo that gets themselves about and do not turn their nose up.
PHOTO CREDIT: Nick Kent Photography
They perform as much as they can and, with every date, seem to grow stronger and confident. The fact they play to a mix of small and large crowds, means they’re preparing themselves for the variation of the road and will get no big shocks. If they performed to festival crowds, they would get a shock when they are faced with smaller crowds. If it was the other way around, the girls would have quite a challenge. No doubt the girls are ready for the bigger festivals but their music is able to connect with those in a smaller, more intimate space. I will end this in a bit but wanted to urge the girls to keep pushing and dreaming as, right now, they are among a handful of female artists getting recognition. There is still that imbalance and female acts have to shout a lot louder to get heard. The likes of Rews are guiding lights for fellow artists who might feel they will not be seen. Rews’ confidence and exceptional songwriting mean the big reviews and gigs are putting them on the map. They are an organised unit that promotes their music and ensures the fans are kept updated. They are prepared for the challenges of modern music and, in Shine, show they are capable of evolving and shifting their music without losing focus. Rews do not repeat themselves but have a very clear sound that defies any easy comparison. In a music world that seems to lack originality and edge: Rews are a duo that blows the cobwebs away and mark themselves out as a mainstream act of the future. When they get there, they will not sell their talent and ethics for money and fame. You listen to their music and know it comes from the hearts and is not designed for charts and marketing men. Few like them exist so, when Pyro comes to the fore, it will show just how intent and promising they truly are. Shine is a bright, burning and prefaces the approaching fire and…
PHOTO CREDIT: Rosie Powell
KEEP that spark alive.
PHOTO CREDIT: Rosie Powell