- REVIEWS -
Now Is All We Have EP Review – Giles Cosgrove
The debut EP from Stevie & The Masquerades “Salvage” was one of the gems of the independent releases of 2017, an unexpected dose of modern nostalgia from a band that were essentially an accident. Now, almost exactly a year later, with the release of their sophomore EP “Now is All We Have”, Stevie Brown and Matt Bond have not only topped their first release, they’ve turned everything up to 11.
Opening with the title track, the minute and a half soundscape sets the scene for the EP, but more importantly, for Stevie & The Masquerades as they truly are; an experimental art pop duo with a flair for the visual and performance. Whereas the first EP was initially written as a solo project for Stevie which evolved into the released record, this is the first time the band have been writing as a band from the beginning, and it’s evident throughout.
It’s the poetic cinema of the music, in full force on this introduction, that makes Stevie & The Masquerades unique, augmenting their live performance. “In the noise and glamour of the city” states a narrator that is neither member of the band, lending an air of mystery to a narrative that is never truly explained throughout, but is none the less omnipresent. It’s melodramatic and theatrical, very much something that has been missing in modern music since the days of Ultravox and The Cure.
The EP truly kicks into full force on the second track “Falling”, a personal favourite. Here the band instantly carry through the now synonymous synthesisers, before bringing in a thunderous drum pattern but more importantly for this group, noticeable electric guitar. Borrowing from The 1975 toolbox, the chord driven riff and subsequent solo from Matt is sent spiralling through all manner of technical trickery to sound perfectly in place within the record, really adding to band’s sound and making this track something special. Stevie provides once again a hard-hitting hook with her vocals, rising above the sound as a guiding hand before breaking into the stratosphere on the second chorus and refrain, a simple chant perfect for live shows, with some fantastic harmonies and backing vocals from Matt.
The EP’s midway point “Under Your Skin”, heads into more new territory for the group as they tackle modern culture and the desire for impossible perfection. The track cries for a music video as it conjures potentially stunning imagery of unhealthy obsession courtesy of bittersweet vocal delivery of stark lyrics from Stevie, before blasting into what has to be one of the best choruses on the EP, full of energy and layers of sound. It is clear that this is the most commercial track from the EP, with a fast tempo, constant beat, and anthemic chorus, without losing sight of the tinges of darkness so embraced by the duo on every track released.
The EP is over all too quickly as the final track “Wasted Love” arrives. It must be said if the avant-garde nature of the band is to be felt in full, an album is far better suited than an EP, with much more creative and artistic freedom from the additional length.
“Wasted Love” is the track that pushes hardest at the semi-concept EP Stevie and Matt have suggested in interviews, bringing together the narrative strands as sound effects of a breakup simmer within the introduction. The opening verse kills the romance that started in “Falling” as Stevie laments over a relationship lost to obsession, potentially the obsession of “Under Your Skin”, bringing out her theatrical training to lament at the love lost. “It’s a Wasted Love on you” declare the duo in the chorus, before a richer second verse drives the song towards a beautifully tragic narrative ending and explosive refrain as both the vocals and instrumentation pack vital double punches.
Here is a band that truly embraces the art of being artists, a cinematic EP with a visceral rich sound deserving of far more than 3 and a half tracks. The group fully utilise their potential on this record, both members contributing vocally and exploring new techniques and instrumentation. It’s a unique sound that climbs beyond simply synth pop into something more conceptual, but none the less can be enjoyed as pure alternative pop. It is this edge that has always been integral to Stevie & The Masquerades, the hint of darkness that gave the group their initial credibility, and aids in the creation of a unique sound; poetic and anthemic collectively.
“Now is All We Have” the brand-new EP from Stevie & The Masquerades is released on November 16th on Physical Format, Streaming Sites and to Download.
Love It If We Made It – Music Video Review – Giles Cosgrove
WARNING: The music video in this article contains language and images inappropriate for younger viewers and those of a nervous disposition.
Music videos are commercial marketing tools that takeaway from what music and musicianship should be.
The 1975 quietly dropped the music video for “Love It If We Made It”, a single from their forthcoming album “A Brief Inquiry into Online Relationships”, on the 15th of October, and with it set out the agenda for not just the song, but the band, their image, their new album and most importantly their mindset.
The bright colours and silhouettes, courtesy of Tobias Rylander, combined with a muted yet aggressive call to arms against the rising tide of modern blindness, add to the song’s already potent break down of the world as we know it. By utilising digital billboard text, frequent glitches, popping colours and stark grim images from every news channel and website, lead singer Matt Healey and director Adam Powell have taken Andy Warhol’s mentality to its furthest extent; consumerism as art.
“Love It If We Made It” is cinematic Pop Art.
Some of the videos subtleties may be lost on first viewing, the track perfect for a video as the slow introduction opens on a plastic back submerged in water before exploding into a visual blitzkrieg as the band take aim at everything and anyone from Weinstein to Grenfell. Expertly it is not done as a throwaway gesture, the band are not saying “We’re not mainstream”, instead they are using their position within the mainstream as a soapbox to stand up and say, “This is all happening right now, and something’s got to be done. So, get off your phones.”
It is the constant awareness that as a mass populous we are attached to our phones and the internet that looks set to drive the forthcoming album, certainly this would seem so with its title. As Matty steps out of frame, the icon to turn off an iPhone appears as the music video ends with a list of charities and groups tackling these very issues in society with a subtle call to arms that simply reads “First Disobey. Then look at your phones.” accompanied by a message underneath stating, “If I don’t get to see the Beauty of the end of Culture, at least I got to see the Culture of the end of Beauty.”
The video for “Love it…” has to be one of the best music videos of the modern age, of music post 2000, certainly the best music video of the 2010’s. It’s potent, pop, and gut wrenching, a masterclass in how a music video doesn’t have to be a marketing tool but can be art in its own right. Perhaps videos are the graffiti of music, and The 1975 just became Banksy.
The 1975’s “A Brief Inquiry into Online Relationships” is released on November 30th.
The Sunday Alternative’s Top 5 Music Films – Giles Cosgrove
With the release of the Queen film “Bohemian Rhapsody”, and the evenings drawing in, it’s an ideal time for a movie night, so here are the Top 5 Alternative Music Films according to The Sunday Alternative. Not Musicals, Movies about Music. Spinal Tap and Almost Famous are great, but here are some you might have missed:
#5: Sing Street – 2016
Boy meets girl. Boy forms band so girl can be in music videos. Boy and girl run away to new horizons. A simple premise however it’s set against the backdrop of 1980’s Ireland, using the various aesthetics perfectly, as UK music had its first big resurgence with the likes of Duran Duran, with a healthy dose of sincerity to boot, so “Sing Street” elevates itself above a potentially thin plot. Here’s a film where the teenage actors far outshine the adults, where a mixed original and jukebox soundtrack delivers constantly, and where it doesn’t shy away from some harsh realities without taking a sledgehammer to them. A perfect film for a lazy afternoon.
#4: “School of Rock” – 2003
Jack Black is a guitarist without a band, so what does he do? Pretends to be a supply teacher, teaching the art of rock to a class at a prestigious prep school. This is possibly the gateway music film for Generation Z and is filled with standout moments from the irrepressible Black. And the soundtrack…! Black recorded a personal video begging Rock Gods Led Zeppelin to allow for the use of “Immigrant Song”. It resulted in a great scene and one of the few soundtracks that includes Led Zep. A hallowed list. The film has spawned a TV series and a smash hit stage musical, yet nothing beats the original, sending up classic rock in the best way possible.
#3: “A Hard Day’s Night” – 1964
The catalyst for the concept of the music video and ensuring films about music stuck around, “A Hard Day’s Night” stars Liverpool’s Fab Four in a day-in-the-life mockumentary. Predating “This is Spinal Tap” by exactly 20 years, whilst not the first film of its type, beaten by the likes of Elvis and Cliff Richard, this was the first picture to do it with flare and style. With the iconic opening note and the equally iconic image of John, Paul, George and Ringo legging it from hordes of adoring fans, “A Hard Day’s Night” is a pure hour and a half of iconic cheeky fun with a classic 60’s Pop soundtrack from 4 of the best recording artists in history.
#2: Pump Up the Volume – 1991
Christian Slater stars as a teenage pirate radio presenter, broadcasting future classic alternative bands like The Pixies & Sonic Youth from his bedroom studio, with a witty, cutting, dry presenting style. His show inspires a student uprising and here the film diverts from being a film about music and radio towards youthful rebellion. But that’s what makes it brilliant, it’s dark for sure, but it’s the spirit of rebellion bottled into under 2 hours driven by a brilliant performance from Slater. The soundtrack is perfection, featuring a snippet of a never released Beastie Boys track that can only be heard in the film. It’s real, it’s harsh, it’s insightful and above all, it’s personal. A teenage presenter with alternative music on radio… Sounds familiar?
#1: Spike Island – 2013
The Stone Roses concert on Spike Island gained legendary status as soon as the 4 lads from Manchester walked onstage in the shadow of a chemical plant. Here, a group of mates fight tooth and nail to see the Roses live at that concert, navigating rivers, scousers, security and fences whilst testing friendships and finding love. It’s a near perfect film. It’s the perfect music film; a love letter to Manchester, to Youth Culture and most importantly The Stone Roses. The sound of the Roses leaps off the screen as the antics of these lads bring a smile and a tear, there’s a demo tape featuring one of the best original songs in any film “Ten Mile Smile”, a dying father, a love triangle and the concert, swirling bass, flaring lights and youthful euphoria. A class film that perfectly captures a time and a place in anybody’s life.
Everything Sucks; But It Doesn’t Have To – Giles Cosgrove
The fact that I consider myself a nineties kid is probably a bit of a stretch of the imagination, if I’m honest. I have no memory of the entire decade at all, but then again when you’re only a month and a half by the time the millennium hits, that’s probably reasonable. I’m the sort of guy filled with nostalgia for a pop culture that I was never a part of, the explosion of youth culture in the 60’s, the counter culture of the 70’s, the films, TV, and music of the 80’s and just for my generation at least, the nineties in general. It’s something I believe we all feel a missing part of ourselves belongs too, especially those of us born in ’98 or 99.
“Friends” is still there for us (clap, clap, clap, clap), although it may have dated for the Netflix generation, the “Fresh Prince of Bel Air” still gets everyone singing about the how their lives got flipped turned upside down, and double denim still hasn’t died the death it deserves thanks to a select few still keeping that 90’s hipster alive.
For me though, it’s the music of the nineties that just makes me long to have been around at that time. The Stone Roses opened the decade in the UK with their legendary concert at Spike Island in May of 1990 (later immortalised in “Spike Island”, available to stream now), the rise and immortalisation of Nirvana, the cementing of Rave and Dance Culture as a force in music, Green Day, a personal favourite, bringing Punk to the masses with Dookie whilst inducing a crazed mud fight at the reincarnated Woodstock, and that was all before the middle of the decade. By 1995 five lads from Manchester, UK, had created a place for themselves in music history with two perfect records, their debut “Definitely Maybe” and it’s follow up, the god like genius that was “(What’s the Story) Morning Glory.” The next year they played two sold out record-breaking nights at Knebworth, history in the making. Liam, Noel, Bonehead, Paul and Alan. Oasis.
So, when, in the opening episode of the Netflix OS “Everything Sucks”, when “…Morning Glory” became a major plot device, a way for the characters to connect, I connected too. I knew I wasn’t going anywhere for the next 10 episodes. Right choice.
Everything Sucks tells the story of Luke and Kate, two students at Boring High School in Oregon as they navigate the swings and waterslides of adolescence, be it Luke and his missing father, or, as has become a source of adulation for the series from critics and fans alike, Kate’s acceptance and eventual embracing of her lesbian sexuality. Throw in a great supporting line-up of characters, a subplot of making a student sci-fi B movie, something I did at that age that really struck a chord, and a tonne of 90’s pop culture references, and you’ve got a show that hits the right notes on so many levels. I can’t hear Ordinary World from Duran Duran without smiling, nor can I hear Ace of Base’s “It’s a Beautiful Life” without wanting to tear my own ear lobes off. That’s all thanks to Everything Sucks. But it’s done so much more.
The show has become a focal point for LGBT teenagers around the world, who were able to point their fingers at the screen and say that’s me, this is my story. I wasn’t able to do this myself, but I was blown away by the beautiful performance of Peyton Kennedy as Kate Messner as she struggles through her sexual awakening. The performances by all cast members are fantastic, Jahi Di’Allo Winston carries such magnetic grit and likeability in his performance as Luke, Sydney Sweeny, who’s currently appearing in season 2 of the acclaimed “Handmaid’s Tale”, is a totally excellent alternative spirit of the 90’s, whilst I saw something of Christian Slater in Elijah Stevenson’s performance as bad boy Oliver, but really Kennedy just blew me away.
What’s great about Everything Sucks is that it casts teenagers as teenagers, there’s none of this Glee, or High School Musical or even Riverdale rubbish of casting 20 something models as teenagers and expecting us to believe it. Everything Sucks joins the small list of series, where only the massive “Stranger Things” is the only other comparable production, that casts actors that are the ages of their characters in the roles and that was needed for the audience to connect with the character arcs.
So, you actually believe in Kennedy’s portrayal of a teenager who is working out and accepting that she’s a lesbian. It was a performance that was just so right. I can’t emphasise enough how enjoyable it was to watch. She hits every note, her character isn’t just a lesbian, she’s a fully rounded person who just happens to be a lesbian, and their credit should be given to the writers, but Kennedy should also get a huge amount of credit herself for carrying those words straight off the page at only 14. She just shines. There’s true nuance and you don’t get that often in a show like this.
I’ve always maintained that the most talented teenage actress in America at the moment is Natalie Alyn Lind, who is somehow able to portray both the girl next door (“The Goldbergs”) or a mutant powered freedom fighter (“The Gifted”) both entirely convincingly without as much as bating an eyelid. That’s what I call range. Lind is now 19, and it won’t be long before she’s no longer a teenager and I’m pretty certain, whilst Kennedy is Canadian, that she is the heir to that title. She’s that good. I look forward to watching her in anything and everything she has coming next.
The show however isn’t without its problems. It takes a few episodes to get going, initially lost in its period setting, one subplot about getting high off peanut butter, whilst very funny, I really did laugh out loud, maybe affected the pacing a little. Yes, some of the supporting characters, whilst enjoyable, are cardboard cut-outs in cases and I just find the School TV and its presenters to be annoying, whether it was written that way or was a result of the acting I don’t know, it just felt potentially unnecessary.
Most of those are minor gripes considering a certain massive show has pulled the “It was Daddy” plot device twice, in as many seasons…
So, after all my singing and dancing, here it is; Netflix cancelled “Everything Sucks.”
After just a month of being available to subscribers, the company took the decision that the series would not be renewed for a second season. The show ended on a cliff-hanger just as massive as Michael Caine and his Self-Preservation Society hanging off the edge of a cliff road, in their bus at the end of The Italian Job. It wasn’t like everything was wrapped in a neat little bow, nor had it been so emotionally draining that maybe a second season wasn’t needed. Go figure.
There was huge outrage from fans, an online campaign immediately started and even candy rings were sent to the Netflix Head Office. It was all met by a brick wall of silence. As someone who works in even the fringes of media the fact that a company can maintain silence to loyal fans and users of its service is beyond me. I genuinely found it to be rude and can’t understand the thought process behind maintaining silence for so long. The silence however was lifted in mid-June, albeit in a cloud of fog.
In the depths of a huge Netflix Expose from Vulture is a small discussion with members of the company about Everything Sucks, explaining the reason behind it’s cancellation, merely that not enough people watched the show and of those that did, not enough continued the series to its conclusion. I’m not going to deny that this decision makes business sense, after all Netflix, like any company, aims to make a profit. However, it is the time period in which this is decided that has left me scratching my head. Netflix doesn’t release numbers, but internally they look at the number of viewers that have completed a series within 28 days of being uploaded.
That’s 4 weeks.
4 weeks for a brand-new show that no one has ever heard of save for its advertising. I just feel like it’s symbolic of the adage, cutting your nose to spite your face. Cancelling a series because it hasn’t found a foothold within an unnaturally short time frame. I’d hypothesise that Netflix are of the view that the cancelling of these series frees up funding for the next OS in the hope it becomes the next viral hit. But not everything is a viral hit. Lightening doesn’t strike twice. You’re not going to get another “Stranger Things” and as proven by “13 Reasons Why” sometimes less is more, you can milk a cow dry.
This whole process casts my mind to stories of various other classic cult series, ranging from the 70’s Sci-Fi series “UFO”, cancelled mid pre-production on its second season due to a rating’s drop in the States, “Firelfy”, famously cancelled due to low ratings after a mistake by network Fox, and as many articles are pointing out, “Freaks and Geeks”, a show akin to Everything Sucks, cancelled merely because NBC didn’t like it. As they say, we are doomed to repeat history unless we learn from it, and it seems Netflix has been totally ignorant of potential cult status that movies, or TV shows, can attain. Cult shows may not make the money that networks or streaming services want, yet they have a huge fan following that will come back repeatedly, showing support for their favourite shows, and more often than not, gain notoriety as a cut above the rest from critics in comparison to more mainstream productions.
The fact that such a company like Netflix, that outputs an image of a sleek modern service, seems to be blind to such potential is ironic as it makes the same mistakes so many of its old school rivals have made and continue to do so. Many cult series never got a second season, that is partly what makes them cults, but Everything Sucks has all the hallmarks of a cult series and it still has the potential to continue.
It isn’t like Netflix is unable to renew “Everything Sucks” , picking up “Lucifer” from television network Fox who cancelled it resulting in similar outcry. Ironically in the vote for Saddest Cancellation of 2018 as part of the TV Scoop Awards, the only series to rival Everything Sucks with 49% was Lucifer with 32.6%. It seems petulant of Netflix to ignore their own users and fans of their own content, instead hoping to own a bankable commodity. There’s no risk. No edge. A complete lack of creative vision. Netflix have been at the forefront of a revolution in media viewing but it seems that they are fast slipping to the same methods and blinkered vision as their television forefathers.
It is unlikely that Netflix are going to renew Everything Sucks after 2 months of no action. You’d think that it wouldn’t be a problem, surely, as with Lucifer, (which itself had mixed reviews in its first season), the creators could simply sell the show to a different Network or Streaming Service. Alas as a marketable “Netflix Original Series…” the rights to “Everything Sucks” are owned by Netflix themselves, thus the creators have no control over their own work. That is truly low. It recalls the way the Comic Book industry used to work where, in the case of Superman for instance, what would become DC comics bought the rights to Superman from Siegel and Shuster upon first publication, for a mere $130 as it was then. This process carried on for years, changing little, and eventually the industry rebelled, resulting in the formation of indie publishers like Image where creators would own the rights to their own creations. Could a similar revolution occur for those making Netflix Originals? It’s not impossible to think.
All we can hope is Netflix will be persuaded to relinquish the rights to the creators who will then be able to shop the second season of the show to other networks. Prompted by the consistent and undying outcry from fans, it wouldn’t be a hard sell. Everything Sucks has been the surprise of 2018, a funny sincere look at growing up, the pains of facing who you are and of course trying to make a student film. May it continue in some way! Please?
Last One Home “Land of Immortality” Review – Giles Cosgrove
There has always been a great heritage of Pop Rock in the UK, that guitar driven sound with a little edge yet always great for everyone to listen too. Starting in the 60’s with The Beatles, moving all the way through The Who, Status Quo, Dire Straits, and Oasis, to The Kooks and The Kaiser Chiefs, it’s been a while since we’ve had a truly great Pop Rock band.
So, when Taunton band Last One Home’s lead singer Tom Westlake told me they were gonna head towards a Stadium orientated Pop Rock sound I was actually a little disappointed. Last One Home are a great band but at the time I’d never thought of them as “Pop Rock”. Their debut EP had a slightly dirty, raw, DIY sound with elements of Punk and Indie Rock, it’s that indie ethos reflected in the sound that I am a big advocate for. So, for Last One Home to decide to head towards a more commercial sound, I did wonder if they were leaving behind their roots unnecessarily. The truth would out on their new single “Land of Immortality.”
The track opens with a shining almost hazy riff with a slight hint of The Stone Roses, before exploding in a shower of drums, which has become almost characteristic of Last One Home. Instantly you can tell that the band have progressed sonically, but there’s no denying of their heritage, instead they’re merely building on it. The original sound is still there, the production, however, has gained a more professional sheen to it whilst the lyrics themselves have perhaps lost some aggression but gained something else.
By the time you get into the first verse, the vocals enter over one of the best drum grooves I’ve heard in a long time, it’s so unique and it really carries the verses. What the lyrics have gained is a spiritual quality, moving from the “us against the world” vibe of the lyrics on the first EP to something larger and more encompassing. Whilst they can be interpreted in different ways, either literally, heading towards the spiritual, or instead perhaps, as a metaphor for getting high derived from the chorus, the delivery and uplifting nature of the melody leave you feeling better for having listened to the track.
The chorus is perfect for the venues that Last One Home are aiming to fill with the upcoming release of their first full length album. The bigger the better because the words are not difficult to pick up and having thousands of people singing along and bouncing around would just sound fantastic. The sooner they build the stadium in Bristol the better because Last One Home would be incredible there. The chorus changes up both the drums and the guitar but everything is kept moving at a brisk pace, the small pause just before each chorus a brilliant flair adding tension to the climax of the song.
In my first review of Last One Home, printed in the Tone News and available here, I stated that even with their initially more aggressive sound they were the sort of band that anyone from 8 to 88 could listen too. To prove my theory, I took the track to my Gran, who’s 77, to find out what she thought of it. As soon the track came in, her hand was tapping and a smile gripped her face, it was her sort of music, being a fan of Status Quo and The Rolling Stones. By the last chorus both hands and her foot were tapping so I knew Last One Home had done something right. As the guitar died away into three final chords and a great drum fill I asked for her thoughts. Gran determined the lyrics had a strong spiritual ethos and it was the sort of music that hit you, that it would stay with you after you’d heard it.
And that’s what Last One Home do, they’re a band that warrant repeated listening because their tracks are just so feel good and stick in the mind. The lyrical content on this new single has stepped up from the last EP, whilst the production on the track has very much a summer quality matching the fantastic music video produced for it which is available on the Last One Home YouTube channel and probably warrants a separate review.
Last One Home are back with an anthem for Summer ‘18, a sound that’s still them but is refreshingly a step forward into higher sonic realms.
**** Four Stars
Stevie & The Masquerades “SALVAGE” Review – Giles Cosgrove
Ahead of the release of their second EP, we take a look back at the bands debut release.
The 1980’s. The Goonies. Back to the Future. Margret Thatcher. Strikes. AIDS. Shoulder Pads. Miami Vice. And the music. The Music. The 1980’s was one of the best decades of music history with some of the most original and long-lasting content being produced across all genres with artists as diverse as Duran Duran and The Smiths, George Michael and The Clash, all going down in music lore. Recently 80’s pop culture has been having a renaissance from the sounds and even the formats like Vinyl records to the films and television of the time immortalised in the headily popular Stranger Things. Of course, music is also following in this acclaim for the retro with bands ranging from The 1975 and Pale Waves right the way through to S U R V I V E and Artificial Pleasure bringing back a sound and look long since relegated to the past.
Enter Stevie & The Masquerades.
Consisting of the hugely talented Stevie Brown and the technical genius Matt Bond, this Taunton based New Wave band have taken everything great about the past and given it an injection of the future. Formed by accident in 2015, the group released their first single in mid-2017 entitled “HER” which premiered on The Sunday Alternative, before they toured the UK festival circuit garnering acclaim. After a long-anticipated wait they finally released the promised debut EP they had been working on titled “SALVAGE”.
Kicking off with “666” the title hints at which direction the bands lyrics are going to be taking, whilst the retro sound floods out with a fantastic opening tone before giving way to soft vocals and a driving keyboard riff. Talk of demons and soul selling is complimented by a sound that builds to a chorus with some excellent backing vocals and a simplistic hammering beat that does just what it needs to do. Post chorus there’s an ear worm melody that hooks throughout the song and by the second verse everything is present that makes Stevie & The Masquerades so special; entrancing dark lyrics, throbbing synthesisers, dramatic vocal delivery and a driving beat. Interestingly the bridge includes whisperings in another language, possibly French, that only adds to the air of mystery the band generates in their sound. The track finishes with a chanting chorus that just screams to be played at large venues with crowds joining in.
The next track “HER” is certainly their calling card and is possibly the magnum opus on this EP. The dramatic wail of Stevie overdubbing herself reaches a dramatic conclusion on a down beat as an explosion of keys and a thumping groove reminiscent of Phil Collins “In the Air Tonight” burst into life before dying away as a sensual building verse takes control and propels the track along. The lyrics are bound to go down well with listeners, talking about lust and love on a night out with plenty of drink involved as well. A club mix is in order. The chorus brings everything together rising into the higher register with a fantastic melody to compliment it and backing vocals to ground. Amongst the many highlights on the track, the production comes very much into the spotlight. The characteristic drum fill that ends each chorus is a great hook whilst the flow of the dynamics holds the track in the mind long after its ended. Another high point is the use of an effect that brings to mind a talk box, made famous by Bon Jovi, that closes the track and is so 80’s.
“Findaway” starts with an initially more familiar pop piano melody but that is soon swallowed into the now characteristic synths that add an excellent blanket to this track whilst still leaving the piano visible. The song really is a perfect way to show off the vocal stylings and capabilities of lead singer Stevie Brown. Theatrically trained, she has complete control throughout and knows just what tone to take for each track’s mood with her sensual delivery a highlight of this group. The lyrics, meanwhile, are more complex and take on a melancholy love-lust tone that is present throughout the EP and harks back to Soft Cell’s “Tainted Love” and the generally bleak-but-oh-so-gorgeous word play of Morrissey.
The closing track on the album brings in the guitar harkening back to Stevie’s roots without being an unpleasant juxtaposition with the rest of the albums sound. “Work” is possibly the track that has been through the most change, starting as a solo track that Stevie was set to record as solo, she brought it to producer Matt and the rest is history. This is clearly evident in the track, it is a little removed from the others but is not at all the worse for it feeling slightly more personal with a great vocal almost folky delivery that verges on rap and brings to mind a certain ginger and his six string. The sound is still certainly Stevie & The Masquerades, the drums are still there driving away, again with trap influences perhaps, and of course thick warm synthesisers. The lyrics are the highlight of the piece hinting maybe at a breakup or an unrequited love that turns into something steamier. It is both confirmed whilst remaining open to interpretation which is the ideal tone for these lyrics with a consistent stitch of the tragic and dark woven in. The stripped back final chorus going into a grandiose floor filler of a crescendo is pure pop magic and could fill every floor from Zinc to the Hacienda. It’s one of the best parts of the album and leaves a smile on the face as the album closes with Stevie and Matt ending the chorus on their voices alone.
The band are certainly aware of the fact they are a band. They have established not only a sound that identifies them but an aesthetic and image of neon lens flares and soft-focus that works perfectly as well. This level of detail is what sets them apart from plenty of other bands trying to get out there into the music industry. Stevie & The Masquerades are there, they’re just waiting for the right person to see them and realise.
SALVAGE overall is a stunning debut with a gorgeous blend of the past and the present within four tracks. The style varies slightly from track to track which some may see as inconsistent or a band not comfortable with themselves but truly is just experimentation with sound that halts any possibility of staleness and keeps them exciting. Stevie Brown is one of the most exciting lead singers in any band I’ve seen; her vocal range and delivery is so vast and dramatic it’s just a pleasure to listen to. Matt Bond meanwhile brings everything together with his drum grooves and approach to production with so many influences I could talk to him all day about them, and not just in music, but in film too and it’s that appreciation of the visual as well as the audio by both members that sets them above others.
Summary: Stevie & The Masquerades are a brilliant New Wave band with fantastic pop energy, a sense of the visceral and a perfect blend of modern and throwback sounds with steaming sensuality and passion injected into each track.
Sounds like: The Smiths meets New Order inside The 1975
Rating: ***** Five Stars
Salvage is available now on CD and to download & stream on all good sites.