After silence, that which comes nearest to expressing the inexpressible is music.
Whilst it might seem the sort of question we should have worked out by now, listening to today’s featured act, a thought crossed our mind, what is it that makes a song good? What secret makes a band great?
Some bands, like Beck, Field Music or St.Vincent seem to thrive on producing something completely new, they seem to approach music with an attitude that says this must not just be different from my last record, it must be different to anything anyone has ever produced in the history of music. They see a huge part of music as being about innovation and pushing things forward.
Then there’s others who are more knowingly backward glancing; some almost revel in a certain nostalgic sound, gradually moulding their sound without ever re-inventing the wheel, The Wave Pictures‘ scepticism of keyboards and amps made after the 1960’s, Night Flowers‘ knowing nods to shoegaze and early 1990’s British Indie, Sufjan Stevens stripping back his sound to little more than a guitar and his voice. They rely on making music that means something to them, on making something new without forgetting about the past that shaped their sound.
Then there are bands like Oasis who just flat out refuse to change, they’ve got their sound down and they’re sticking to it, and it’s hard to argue it did their sales figures much harm, even if it did get a little tiring about two and a half albums in!
There’s no right or wrong way to make music, and there’s no secret formula for a great song. There’s just songs that move you and make you feel alive, and there’s songs that don’t: draw your own line in the sand and you’ll have discovered music’s last great secret: it’s all a matter of opinion!
Stealing Sheep are the trio of Becky Hawley, Emily Lansley and Lucy Merser.
Every instrument, genre and musical idea you can imagine, stitched into a danceable tapestry of 1980’s pop music. The remarkable thing is that it works at all! Synths go from warbling and melodic, to rhythmic and low-end, vocals go from beautifully harmonious, to distorted and disturbing, and the drums can be as primal or as complex as takes their fancy!
The trio are from Liverpool. The city known as the “city of pop” might be most famous for a rather successful four piece, but it’s got a rich musical history that extends far beyond them! Elvis Costello, Echo & The Bunnymen, even Flock Of Seagulls, Liverpool is a city that is entirely linked to music, almost as much as it is to football and talking very loudly! In recent years the likes of Ladytron, Ex-Easter Island Head and All We Are have been flying the flag for the cities continuing musical talent.
The band released their “medieval-kraut-folk” inspired debut album, Into The Diamond Sun back in 2012 on Heavenly Records, and it’s success saw them tour with the likes of The Postal Service, Field Music and St.Vincent. The follow up Not Real has just come out, and like their debut it is on Heavenly Recordings.
Whilst the trio’s debut album, Into The Diamond Sun, had it’s routes in prog, lo-fi and beautiful folk-tinged vocal harmonies, on Not Real they’ve moved into a sound that is in many ways all together more pop. The record sounds so much crisper and more modern, with as much effort put into the post-production studio wizardry as the song writing; the sheer array of sounds and styles is frankly stunning, as is their ability to make the most unlikely mix of instruments and styles come together to form something that’s both accessible and dance floor friendly.
The albums lead single, and title track is the sort of perfect disco-pop meets electronica track that Metronomy have spent years perfecting, Apparition is angsty, electronic-rock in the Tom Vek mould and Evole & Expand is a latin-infused acoustic lullaby. The album is every bit as complicated, busy and brilliant as that array of influences sounds!
That they’ve toured with Field Music won’t be a huge surprise; the unusual time-signatures, complex vocal harmonies and rhythmic synthesisers would all fit neatly into the Brewis Brothers back catalogue, whilst their ability to seamlessly meld prog and pop, brings to mind both Django Django and The Wharves.
Best,or at least oddest, of all is Greed. Starting with a thumb piano of some variety and the slow marching of a simplistic left-right beat, the vocals are heavily processed with an almost witch-folk feel, as they all but cackle “your blood is thick, your skin is warm.” In the songs middle section you’re taken on a distinctly Eastern journey as organs pop up with a North-African feel that transports you to a Moroccan market place, before being transported further over to the Far East, via a synth that could be borrowed straight from Fever Ray. It’s a modern transcontinental, psych-folk travelling song, and every bit as odd as that sounds!
It was Joni Mitchell who famously said “I see music as fluid architecture” , if that were the case Stealing Sheep would be the sound of a hyper modern city, with every building designed by a different architect, every structure taken individually is entirely perfect and beautiful, put them together and it can all get a bit too much. There are times on this album where you just feel like you could do with a lie down!
Not Real is out now on Heavenly Recordings.Stealing Sheep’s UK tour starts on April 23rd continuing into May.