the exact sound of the place: sophie cooper on steven ball, amanda feery and michael tanner

May 29, 2015 at 11:41 am | Posted in new music | Leave a comment
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Steven Ball – Collected Local Songs (self-released download)

Amanda Feery and Michael Tanner – To Run the Easting Down (forthcoming, Awkward Formats)

steven ball - collected local songs

Steven Ball – Collected Local Songs

Last time I saw Steven Ball was when he came to a gig I was playing in London and he told me then that he was working on a collection of songs. Being a fan of Ball’s music and ‘songs’ [Editor’s note: you’re fired!] I was instantly intrigued and now, six months or so later, Collected Local Songs has become my favourite release of 2015 so far.

Ball is best known as half of Storm Bugs who were one of my favourite acts performing at Nottingham’s Rammel Festival in 2012.  We met then and after this I’d quite often bump into him around the New Cross/ Camberwell / Deptford areas of South London so hearing an album from him that retells sounds and experiences specifically from around that area makes a lot of sense to me.

The mood of this record is really laid back. Minimalist loops of echoing guitars and bowed strings set the pace over which Ball’s impressive vocals sing miniatures describing the smallest observations – a neighbour taking time to smoke a cigarette out of the window, how the smell of weed casually wafts through the air of a street he has walked down a hundred times before, the high rises that have appeared next to the river… It’s emotive music and on listening I was transported back to London imagining myself on a night bus crossing the Thames back to the South. Ball’s vocal delivery is just gorgeous, there’s a similarly to Scott Walker about them, and lines from each song are layered together in lush harmonies.

There’s a literalism about this album that really sucked me in. The songs are like perfect postcards picturing small details of everyday life seen through an appreciative eye. There’s a brilliant inclusion of a field recording taken at Deptford Flea Market and, rather than it being ambiguous, anyone who has had the pleasure of visiting will recognise it as the exact sound of that place. Two market stallholders blasting out some kind of music with beats (forgive me, not my area of expertise!) – it’s just what you’re likely to walk pass on a Sunday before stopping for a rummage through a box of broken Hoover parts and swing music LP box sets (true story). The title, Collected Local Songs, is perfectly apt and the sincerity felt on listening to these songs is quite special.

Amanda Feery and Michael Tanner – To Run the Easting Down

Due to a problem at the plant (the curse of Record Store Day – a side note: this clever marketing idea has screwed up so many of my friends’ album releases. I love the idea of supporting independent record shops but folks should just go nip into the shop and buy an album on payday, that’ll help independent music far more) I’m not sure if this album has a release date yet but I do know that it’s coming out on a label called Awkward Formats as soon as it’s possible.

Three long tracks composed over three years, Feery and Tanner stitched a lot of this release together using transatlantic delivery methods (boats?) but you really can’t tell. The production on this release is so slick – at times you are tricked into thinking Feery’s beautiful voice must have been split into several pieces or that the duo hired in voice doubles. The layered vocals on the first piece, ‘Squarepushers’, come across as a wonderful choral effect with enough reverb to make the listener feel as though they have come to church to hear this. Which church would that be? The Church of Drone, of course! Following on from the choral vocals are massive, dark, murky drones offset with light bell sounds and an emotional solo violin. I felt weirdly sentimental on hearing this first piece but not sure what for.

A similar feel carries on throughout the other two pieces, a combination of light and dark contrasts between drones and additional instruments. There’s a lovely piano part played on the second track with buckets of reverb added creating a serene aural landscape, a muted pallet of sounds. Lie back and relax, let your thoughts go where they want to go, listen to this album if you need to escape into the drone zone for a while.

—ooOoo—

Steven Ball

Awkward Formats

Excerpts from To Run the Easting Down

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