* Exclusive first review *
(4 / 5)
I don’t usually “do” ambience stuff; the chill out genre, totally instrumental sounds where it’s all whale noises and birds tweeting. It’s OK for those having a massage in a posh spa, or women giving birth at home in a paddling pool, but it doesn’t normally float my boat.
So why am I reviewing an instrumental album of that ilk? The answer is; Music Republic Magazine’s webmaster/designer asked me to give it a listen and see what I thought – no promise of a review. Charlie revealing that playing piano and keyboard, and composing are other strings to his bow.
He’d not ever mentioned before, in the nine months we have worked together, that he has been working on his own debut solo album for two years. I knew he went off once a week for piano lessons, and had taken various exams and was an accomplished pianist, but I was not aware he was a lot more serious about music than that.
It is always difficult to be put in the position of listening to something created and recorded by someone you know. Friend, family, business acquaintance, friend of a friend. If it stinks, you upset someone. If you love it, it may seem to the reader, there’s some nepotism or a backhander involved. If you choose to “pass” on covering something, that friend or family member may well get the right hump. It has happened!
So, what to do? I can only be honest even if that risks tears and tantrums. But, I’d rather not write a word than just be negative and crush someone’s dreams and hard work. In Charlie’s case, he sent me one track a while ago and I chose not to comment, and told him if he ever made a full album for commercial release, I’d be happy to listen to it then. Well he has and here we are…“Youth” is not easy to summarise in a few words. One of those you really need to listen to, soak up and take it as whole album rather than cherry-picking the odd track here and there. So, do I kick this off by telling you some background to Charlie, or just dive in to the overall critique of the 10 tracks? I think the latter is my best modus operandi. No vocals. No guitars. No bass. Programmed drums on one track. Just keyboards, piano and synths.
It starts with the aptly titled “Where To Start”. A very short burst of a track before it is all over. It didn’t really grab my attention from the off, I have to say. Then “Inspire”. Stunningly beautiful. Calming and ethereal. Chill out, yes. Ambient, yes. But; it almost has that Coldplay vibe to it, as regards the melody and arrangement. A gentle instrumental that one could easily imagine Chris Martin putting some words to. OK Charlie boy, you do have my attention now.
“You’d Be Proud” is a sensitive affair, with samples of children playing and what sounds like a train trundling along the tracks. “Munn-dane,” another ultra-short snippet of music. The track chosen as a single, “Pleuvoir La Vie,” is the first thus far to go beyond just keyboards and synths, and has a programmed drum track, rather like the percussion track on Dave Brubeck’s 1950 classic “Take Five”, Wiki for Dave Brubeck, which had an unusual quintuple (5/4)time signature, played by Joe Morello. “Pleuvoir La Vie”, takes a while to get going, a tiny smattering of piano at the end and then it’s done. I cannot see radio taking this on, so I am unsure what value releasing a single will have. This record really does need be heard as a complete piece of work, and out of context with just one track, it is unlikely it will entice people to want to hear more.
“Mystic Poetic” delivers sweeping waves of sound, and then a little tinkling piano at the end of a one minute and 33 second track. “Change”, conjures up mental images and moving pictures in my head. My favourite classical composer is Mahler, and his music always sets my mind racing with those movies playing in my head. The same here, especially with this track, where it comes in gently and sweetly. I see a misty field, sun rising in that Golden Autumn morning in the English countryside, wildlife scurrying about and the crows crowing in the trees. If the BBC ever need a composer to write for Springwatch or any of their wildlife output, Charlie’s their man.
Emotional, passionate, sensitive and beautiful. Enough about me………………..but seriously folks; Youth” the title cut is all of that. “Take Me Somewhere Else” has that aquatic vibe about it and a crackling vinyl record sample to give it that warm and retro flavour. “Visions Of Peace” put me in mind of the wonderfully tranquil Erik Satie composition, “Gymnopedie No 1”. Also, more current; the work by British artist Robert John Godfrey on the album “The Seed and the Sower,” by his Prog’ Rock band The Enid. Charlie most definitely has an ear for the classical, and like those composers, he is unafraid to leave acres of space; not tempted to fill it all in with noise of any sort.
Charlie is from Warwickshire; and had a budget of bugger all to make this solo album. Armed simply with a MacBook, retro synthesizers, three different pianos and the desire to diarise his life and experiences, good and bad, with music, he began recording and composing demos and sketches in his bedroom. He describes “Youth” as being entirely about his personal history and memories; and in the two years it took to make, he burned the candle at both ends by working into the wee small hours to give total focus on the project, and not disrupt his “day job”. More on that later! That sense of solitude and darkness clearly inspired the emotional depth behind “Youth”. But he is reluctant to spill the beans on what each song is about and inspired by, as not only do they hold very personal meanings, but he wants listeners to each interpret them differently.
He is heavily inﬂuenced by the likes of old school artists such as Pink Floyd and 80s synth pop bands, as well as clear references to the contemporary vibes of bands such as The Japanese House, M83, The 1975, Moby, Peace, Talk Talk, Ludovico Einaudi, Elbow, Radiohead, Fleetwood Mac and more. His classical leanings start with Debussy and the previously mentioned Erik Satie. A lot of what he has composed and recorded was with the mindset of it being performed live, with lights, visuals, a big sound and an audience. Grasping the challenge to keep them entertained and hold their attention. A contemporary concert mixed with sounds inspired by classical compositions.
The record might well be a tad disjointed, because much of the tracks are so short in duration. A couple of them felt to me like they just need that extra little addition to make them sound more fully formed. Less like “interludes”. But again, I cannot fault Charlie’s production value of leaving space and letting the music wash over you. It’s his album, not mine. It is also to be remembered that this is his very first crack at recording and releasing his own music. So very much a work in progress. But one can hear the huge potential for sure. Future TV and film sound track man, I bet ya.
The record is dedicated to Charlie’s late Grandfather who passed away late last year. The last word is Charlie’s, from when he sent me the finished tracks, and wrote a little note: “Hope you like it. Spent two years making this beast. Headphones definitely recommended”. I concur. Oh, by the way; Charlie is only 17-years-old and about to go to University…
- “Youth” will be released on all usual digital platforms, such as Spotify, Apple Music, Deezer, Amazon Music on 12th July 2017. Plus, a limited edition run of just 200 physical CDs which will be on sale at his sole live concert, scheduled for November 25th 2017 at Polesworth Abbey, complete with a five-piece string section and two support acts. Tickets for the gig are free (@ http://ticketshere.co.uk/polesworth).
By Simon Redley
(2 / 5) ‘OK Zone’
(3 / 5) ‘Decent Zone’
(4 / 5) ‘Super Zone’
(5 / 5) ‘Awesome Zone’