Spygenius – Café Emery Hill
Spygenius are,… well…, genius!…, at least as far as song-craft is concerned. Their latest long-player Man On The Sea, out now on Big Stir Records, is absolutely one of the best long-players I’ve heard this year. Enter Café Emery Hill (seen/heard here). The playful animation in this video is a perfect match to the lyrics, melody, and spot-on harmonies. It’s just a hint at what awaits you as just one of 17 tracks on Man On The Sea. As the title of the long-player suggests, nearly every track here has a nautical reference of some kind, but don’t expect them to all sound the same, because they don’t, and they shouldn’t. That would be boring! Nope, there is plenty of tempo and stylistic changes to go along with the up-tempo numbers, which tend towards the more 80′s-rock-meets-modern-indie-pop vein.
With one exception, Man On The Sea’s songwriting is handled by Peter Watts (lead guitar), who explains that every Spygenius long-player contains older and newer songs, often picked to match an overarching theme. The result for Watts is:
“I’ve actually found this quite fruitful artistically, because it creates a sort of de facto conversation between my older and younger selves, which is existentially revealing.”
He admits that the listener probably won’t pick up on this but he hopes that the underlying feeling comes through, and I have to say that I think it does.
While Watts leads the show here, there is no denying the influence of the other band members. These include Ruth Rogers (bass/vocals), who penned and sings Spite, the only song on the long-player not written by Watts, Matt Byrne (keyboards/vocals), and Alan Cannings (drums/vocals). From the four comes a magnificent, massive sound, full of instrumental interplay and tight harmonies.
It would be a daunting and near-impossible task, to take on describing or reviewing each of the 17 tracks, here. The sheer volume alone of the 73 plus minutes of music is a lot to take in. That said, if you’re thinking that the band has created a double-length LP with a bunch of filler, you would be wrong! Each track is a masterpiece on its own.
While I won’t review every track, I do have a few favorites that I have to say something about, not least of which is the video track, Café Emery Hill. This bubbly single succeeds at being a safe fantasy to take your brain to. With viruses and governmental shenanigans, we all need to escape, and where better to head to than a fantasy café on the shore of a fantasy sea filled with music? The lushly beautiful mid-tempo Albion could be a reflection on the political realities (disappointments?) in both the US and the UK. Live for the present is the message behind Tommorowland, another slower-paced number, which flies in the face of the common orthodoxy: Work for the future you will have tomorrow. Green Eyed Monster, one of two epic-length tracks, clocking in at nearly 7 minutes, provides a single bending note of atonal distortion that runs beginning to end, which, coupled with the melody of the song and vocal harmonies, provides an eerie soundscape that fully lays out the imagery for the listener. Perhaps one of my all-time favorites here is Midnight Bandola, mostly for the song structure, plodding beat, and the fact that you want to sing along. It’s a track that I can’t get out of my head. It’s a song that Watts refers to as “a song of human reconciliation and bonding.”
You can find more information on Spygenius by heading up to the band’s website, which has everything you might need. For purchase of Man On The Sea, I recommend heading up to Big Stir Records, where you can pick up the long-player in either vinyl or CD format, each of which includes a digital download with purchase. You can pick up the band’s back catalog from their website store, with a few options available on their bandcamp.com site.
Man On The Sea is a boat-load of music, mini-masterpieces each one, that can stand alone without the support of the other tracks. The band is tight, comfortable in the groove that they have created for themselves over many years of performing and recording. If you only have the budget for one album this year, I’d make it this one! Go do it now!
Note: With Covid-19 still around, probably to be with us for some time, artists like Spygenius and many others need your purchases to keep their heads above water. If your situation allows it, consider purchasing more in these tough times. –Vodka