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These Streets EP Reviewed…

RingMaster
04/06/2013

The These Streets EP is one of those releases you just lick your lips in anticipation of no matter how many times you take its provocative and sensational emotive walk. Mesmeric and tantalising, the four track release is the debut release from The Graphite Set, the project of Lily Buchanan. The bio on the band website says “The idea of The Graphite Set is that one day I’ll be able to design and make a full sized stage set using my art which I can perform on. It’ll be black and white, linear, atmospheric, and will give me the best sounding reverb you have ever heard….” This epitomises her passion for art and music which has seen the girl from East Lothian, Scotland in bands since the age of 16 and from school moving to London to study Illustration at Central St Martins and immersing herself into the local music scene. The EP is an impressive and potent marker of her songwriting, talent, and intent, and one suspects just the appetizer to many triumphs ahead from and for her and the band.

These Streets was recorded at Ash Gardner’s House of Strange studio in Limehouse last November, with Buchanan providing the vocals and rhythms guitar to her songs with guest guitarist Katherine Blamire of the Smoke Fairies featuring on some of the release as well as further guitar parts added by Duncan Brown. Ed Seed provided drums, bass and other instruments to complete the line-up as well as co-producing the EP with Gardner too. Since the recording the band has settled into a quartet of Buchanan and Brown with bassist Grundy le Zimbra and drummer Scott Skinner for live shows with already successful small gigs priming the band up for the EP release show at the Sebright Arms, London on 5th June.

Released via Thumbscrew Music, the EP opens with the title track, the song emerging from the silence with an eager stroll which immediately reminds one of Echo and The Bunnymen with the guitars buoyantly lighting up the air. In full view the song rests back with teasing melodic suasion as the vocals of Buchanan take centre stage. Her voice initially takes you by surprise, like an unexpected blast of cold catches your breath when wrapped in pure warmth, but rather than pull away you find yourself lost in her startling and rich dark toned seduction. Thoughts of Julie Driscoll come to mind right away and instantly grip the ear though as the songs unfold there is a more distinctive presence to the voice of Buchanan which is unique and magnetic. The song builds up around her delivery with a hypnotic pulse from the bass and niggling guitar strokes before widening into an infectious saunter. With a vibrant sixties psychedelic whisper to the melodic almost punk like sinews of the song sculpted with the angular guitar movements, there is a set in contagion which equally smoulders before and leaps at the listener in what is a stunning introduction to EP and band.

The following Pick Me Up stands before the ear with a vibrant bass pulse and bright keys flitting around the vocals of Buchanan, the reserved start just biding its time to seize the moment to dance upon the senses. A switching slow and energetic gait alongside the persistently melodically enticement flavours further a song which is a mix of folk pop and psyche rock, the resulting brew leading to a wonderful cacophonous finale which is mouth-watering and thrilling.

The final two songs In Your Eyes and I See No Lies are sisters from different shadows, the pair sharing a chorus and emotive breath but in different guises. Neither a part 1 and 2 type thing nor opposites as in black and white, the songs hold a union which is open yet parallel rather than touching. The first of the two is voice and guitar on a tender emotive embrace which caresses thoughts and emotions into their own memory or song whilst the second is a scintillating again psychedelic spiced temptress which is as haunting as its predecessor but washed in a golden melodic sunset wrapped by the absorbing and resonating rhythmic web.

It is a stunning conclusion to an equally immense release which is set to make The Graphite Set and Lily Buchanan names rife on the lips of the many.

Music Musings And Such
04/06/2013

The strong female voice, is a case study that has many different angles… that one can examine.  In the current scene, the best representatives of this type of vocal prowess is Adele.  In the U.K., at least, there are few female singers that have a notably powerful and intriguing voice.  When considering solo artists, in today’s market, the majority of stars tend to project a softer-edged voice: sweetness and stillness are favoured over emotive strength and belt.  Amy Winehouse was the last great example of a talent whom could evoke jazz and blues power, and do so in a very unique and surprising way.  There are singers such as Jessie J, whom can project and summon up a lot of force; but the songs and personality behind the voice are so divisive and unspectacular, that it is going to waste.  The U.S. have been the strongest historical patrons of the strong female voice.  Soul legends such as Aretha Franklin in the ’60s and ’70s showed how it should be done.  Towards the ’90s and up until modern day, Christina Aguilera and Mariah Carey have been obvious examples of what I am trying to say.  Outside of the U.S., Europeans such as Bjork offered up their own blend of potent vocals; but away from them, there have not been too many examples to offer.  In the country there is a problem that stems from talent shows.  Aside from the fact that they are totally worthless and should be banished, the participants are always moulded to sound like Carey or Aguilera.  Individuality and potential are not realised: the focus is trying to mould someone to sound like a commercial star.  Aside from our Winehouse and Adele, I have been hard-pushed to think of many female singers that have taken you aback with their power and force.  Florence Welch perhaps; maybe the odd other here and there.  In a market starved of real vocal diversity, it seems that it is harder now than ever, to find voices that differ from the norm. and are unique.  I guess when the raft of horrid talent/singing shows have bitten the dust, there will be a renewed focus on personality, and not simply singing in order to try to sound like someone else.  It is something the men are guilty of as well.  In the solo market there is too much falsetto and restrained emoting, and not nearly enough sparks and volume.

Arriving in my thoughts a week or so ago, came a name that I had not heard of previously.  The Graphite Set are a band that are going to be making big impressions.  Fronted by their female star Lily Buchanan, as well as Duncan Brown, Grundy le Zimbra and Scott Skinner, they have been around for a year or so now, and have been cementing their sound and gaining a passionate following.  Their designs and E.P. cover are awash with stunning and bold black-and-white lines and imagery.  Like Jeff Buckley, Lily is the main draw and is up front, but is supported by a talented and strong band, that augment her vocal strengths, and add colours and emotions.  Lily grew up in East Lothian, and from an early age developed a love of sketching and, at the age of 16, set up the band.  It is hardly surprising that, given her love of drawing and black-and-white lines, that the band name was to be The Graphite Set.  The idea for The Graphite Set was originally to have Lily up front and in focus; but as the E.P. has been recorded and the demand to play live increased, band members were drafted in.  On June 5th the E.P., Sebright Arms will be released, and is another step for a restless young artist keen to get her ideals of atmospheric beauty and stunning sounds out to the public.  In the early stages there has been a great deal of positive feedback and praise, and Lily herself is influenced by the likes of P.J. Harvey and Patti Smith.  The latter seems to be a particular favourite and there is some of Smith’s notes and shades in Lily’s voice; updated slightly but evoking a great deal of similar strengths and merits.  There are few contemporaries that can boast the same type of voice, that elicits the same emotions and responses.  Laura Marling, Anna Calvi and a great deal of the solo sector have their own personalities, and there is a lot of range to be heard for sure, in terms of style.  As much as anything, no matter which artist you are listening to, others things aside from the voice stand out: whether it is the compositions or lyrical quality.  On social media sites, support is coming in and the good word is being spread.  As the year crawls on and new horizons present themselves, expect to hear a lot more about The Graphite Set.  There is a definite need and niche when it comes to the kind of music that The Graphite Set are currently putting out there.  It is at once the antithesis of the X-Factor/Emile Sande/vague pop nonsense that tends to blur together and have a similar underwhelming aftertaste; and at the same time has a relatable and populist quality to it: the tracks are not focused on exclusivity; there is something for everyone.  The E.P., These Streets, is available now, and certainly promises much reward and great returns.  It is the kind of music that is ready for the consumer market and has edges and ideals that will appeal to all, but also contains enough uniqueness and mystery that will invigorate and excite the stuffiest of reviewers and music-lovers alike.

Initial footsteps on These Streets’ title track are scene-setting and capture you.  The track fades up and is chocked full of stylish and enlivened percussion and persistent and hard guitar work.  The intro does not impose or overwhelm; instead it builds up a head of steam and keeps a rampant and energised pace.  Initially you are prepared for a full-out and dizzying intro. that keeps on going and pulls you under.  Expectation is subverted, when the pace is slowed and stability is introduced.  A calming arpeggio is unleashed, and the vocal is allowed to enter.  The words are delivered quite unusually; a couple of words are sung, before another; there is an ellipsis and then the rest of the line is produced.  Emotional resonance and unexpectedness are what is felt, and there is a little bit of P.J. Harvey and Patti Smith’s delivery and resonance when the lines “I walk these/Streets today/I walk those/In my lonely way”.  One can detect modern elements in Lily’s voice, but as much as anything it is the sounds of the punk and alternative ’70s (and ’60s to an extent); there is that abiding feel and reminiscence.  Quite a refreshing and rare thing to hear, as naturally one expects something less striking and unintuitive when approaching new talent- and especially solo artists.  The lower toned vocals, that have Gothic edges, and slowly walk in shadows; combined with a minimal guitar backing, creates a haunted but exciting atmosphere.  There are no intrusive or wasted notes and sounds; full emphasis is put on the words and what is being said, and consideration is given to the best way to highlight them.  In the back, the guitar has a little bit of Mazzy Star, and at some intervals Lily’s voice has a hint of Annie Lennox to it as well.  Themes of walking the streets, and doing so “In my lonely way” are repeated, and builds up a sense of unnerve as well as cinematic wonder.  You can build and create scenes in your own mind to fit with the lyrics: vignettes and projections unfold and one suspects that for the majority of people, they will be in black-and-white.  Gradually the energy builds, and the band’s influence comes into play.  Talk of uncertainty and indecision are spoken of, both of which“Walk past me”; our heroine telling them to walk past- they have no choice in the matter.  Any doubts or anxieties are being exorcsised, and a brighter horizon is being embraced.  It is asked: “Let ambition/Take hold”; a swaying bi-play between percussion and strings creates a dance and punch that notches up the energy once more, and illustrates perfectly the words being sung.  Although to The Graphite Set, the “streets are cold”; it is asked that ambition is given credence and full attention: just ignore the negativities and harsher truths.  Each word is given consideration, and many artists- and especially bands- have little understanding with regards to intelligibility and clarity in vocals: a lot of the words are slurred, hurried or indecipherable, buried underneath layers of sound.  Here, instead, there is crystal clarity, and the specialised and potent delivery allows you to digest the words and let their effect take hold.  In the way that modern idols such as Adele and Florence Welch have a talent for projection and conviction; there is comparable here.  The lines are delivered, and energetically offered up.  Underneath, Lily is a performer and can has the same grace and passion as her idols when it comes to getting her words across.  Wherever the streets of the song are set: London, Scotland or further climbs, emphasis is put on the words “these streets”.  Past the 2:15 mark, the words are repeated often and emphasised; the percussion rumbles and tumbles, building up momentum and gravity, as our heroine becomes more enraptured and forceful.  It is clear that wherever the story takes place, she wants to take you there and get a sense of what is happening in her mind, as well as in the scene.  For the majority of the final third, considertation is given entirely to this mottif, and the words as a coda are sung, taunted, emoted mantra-like, so that they dril into your brain.  Just as the most empassioned interpretation of the words has been summoned forth, the percussion- as well as lilting and subtle guitar sparks that join the fray- begins to die down, as the song fades, and the listener is allowed to draw breath.

The Graphite Set have great future-potential as well as immediacy to their sound.  Buchanan is a talent that understands the need to differentiate herself from the current crop, whilst incorporating some of her idols and influences into her sound.  The vocals are not just unique, but the word the words are planted and distributed are very different too.  Atmosphere and evocation are bywords that she stands by and through relatively few words a great deal of emotion is realised.  Musically the track has large chunks where it is relatively sedated and restrained: percussion is most prominent but guitar is employed to inject some different strokes into the mix.  It is the intro that is the most exciting thing from a musical and compositional standpoint.  It makes sure that the song gets off to an exciting and strong start, and when Lily comes up front, the various components back off slightly, dispatched to create mood and set tone, rather than impede too much.  The big issue with a lot of music, and solo work as well is that there are too many notes and too much noise.  Vocals and lyrics get buried and there seems to be a fear that, unless you make things as loud and cluttered as possible, then people will not listen and keep focused.  When you strip away the needless rabble and sonic blasts, and focus on the words and voice, then the best results are realised.  Lily’s vocal has dark tones and lines of Smith, Harvey as well as Welch as well, but sounds very much her own woman: there is never a sense that we are hearing anyone but her.  These Streets, as well as the associative E.P. has a lot of ’60s and ’70s influence, and a punk-cum-folk blends.  Positivity comes through as much as anything.  Our protagonist sees negative aspects and sensations approach, but never wants to be possessed by them, or associate too much with them.  I get the sense that there are heartaches and troubles that she has encountered and have to overcome, but the sights are most definitely focused on the future and keeping head very much above water.  The rest of the tracks on These Streets are impressive and consistently surprising, and as well as being instant appeal, the tracks stand up to repeated listens, and reveal new layers and merits each time you hear them.  That is the marker of a great act or band: when you can find yourself listening to a song again just to discover something new.  In the way that black-and-white design and motifs are part of The Graphite Set’s portraiture, there are colours, depths, landscapes, city scenes and smoke-filled curiosities along the way, and in every verse.  Hopefully online appreciation will triplicate and multiply vastly, and a great number of people take the themes of The Graphite Set to heart.  Long have I bemoaned the lack of originality and diversification in music, and it is refreshing and pleasing when something different and impressive comes along.  Of course the decision is yours whether you investigate further and explore the realms.  For all the below-average and sub-par efforts that float on the surface of the musical waters like dead fish; it is necessary now as much as any time before, to foster and encourage talent whom understand the need to do something about it.  It is clear then, that The Graphite Set… mean business.