Every other Monday night Dave Hammond broadcasts on Cambridge 105 with his ever excellent Smelly Flowerpot Radio Show. A couple of editions back he had as guests a band called Ember Rev. They delivered a remarkable session which reflected their latest release “Premonition and Ruin”. I immediately hopped over to Bandcamp to purchase it.
This is mature music, very well written and delivered with excellence. Opener “Bring It Right Down” is a gloriously upbeat song which belies its subject matter. As with all of their songs the attention to structure, the use of dynamics, and the strong melodies set the band aside from their contemporaries in alternative music. They describe themselves as percussive, and as art-rock, and there are clear echoes of previous ensembles who had that label slapped on them. The glorious second track “The Fear” however is much more than that with vague memories of the work of Gentle Giant coming through to me as I listen. There is none of the po-faced seriousness of prog here though. The sound is imbued with a sense of fun even though the words might be a tad more serious. The instrumental “Something Almost Imperceptible” acts as a clever bridge to the rest of the EP, allowing a pause for thought. The stately “Papillon” has an appropriately Gallic feel evoking the smell of Gauloises and strong coffee in a bistro somewhere on the left bank. It builds into a wonderful polemical statement both musically and lyrically. “My Sentiments Exactly” further develops the groups unique sound albeit with a set of mind-jarring time signature shifts which skirt a high-life/jazz feel on the guitar. The concluding “Englands Finest Hour” is a tour de force and does what every release should do and leaves this listener wanting more. Ecclestone’s lyrics are spot on here both politically and sociologically.
The band is
Guitar & Vocal: Dan Ecclestone
Accordion: Chris Peckham
Bass: Dom Hall-Smith
Drums: Ian Pickering
Check them out on Facebook
I took the time to carry out an interview with Dan about the band and this latest release…..
Who and what influences you musically?
I guess two bands whose sounds inform Ember Rev’s sound are Arcade Fire and Talking Heads; Arcade Fire for the emotional depth of their melodies and the sort of massive acoustics in their arrangements, also the sense of introspection and memory in their lyrics; Talking Heads for the focus on rhythm and wonky, asymmetrical grooves. I also love Peter Gabriel’s music from the time he was with Genesis; the dark and twisted sounds of creepy Victoriana mixed with more wonky time signatures
Where does the name of the band come from?
Ember Rev as a name is deliberately meaningless, so as to encourage the listener to invest their own meaning whilst listening…. Although that said, I did have a song called ‘I Dreamt of Embers’ and the idea of an Ember Reverie grew out of that
Feel free to explain the anti brexit sentiment that is the backbone to the release
Premonition & Ruin is based on snippets of conversation i heard around the time of the EU referendum; angry, scared, proud and confused voices all venting spleen in public. Some in conversations with me, some overheard. I thought the outcome was a disaster but tried to keep my take on it quiet, and let the disembodied voices speak instead. For instance, Bring It Right Down is about a train journey I had around that time; an old soldier said to me ‘We fought the war to keep them away’ and I felt really sad for him as a result. Papillon kinda twists the headline ‘Who breaks a butterfly on a wheel’ that the Times famously wrote about Mick Jagger after his drugs bust in the sixties; I felt we were crushing opportunities like butterflies by voting to leave. My Sentiments Exactly was a dream: I found myself in a speeding car, totally out of control, but all I could think was ‘Well, are we in control?’
Why an accordion…..? not a usual instument in modern contermporary music?
I love the accordion. I had a little harmonium and started writing songs on that but couldn’t really sing at the same time so got Chris in to play it. It’s probably because of Arcade Fire – they use accordians and they really kick. Possibly also Yann Tiersen, his stuff is great, really evocative. It’s not really a klezmer thing, more about creating sonorous and acoustic textures. Also, they look great…. I think keyboard players, in general, look a bit dull, hitting presets and dialing through sub-menus on little LED screens.
How and where was the album recorded?
Well we gigged it first at Hot Numbers Café on Gwydir Street Cambridge in around May last year, then at various pubs and festivals here & there. We then recorded the drums bass and accordion in September at Half Ton Studios, just outside Cambridge, with the awesome Neil ‘Bugs’ Rogers at the controls. I then took the files and did everything else at home. Simone Silvestroni mixed it at his place really creatively and added all sorts of great audio effects…. Job done!
The most impressive thing for me is the mature arrangements of the songs – for example the dynamic shift on Papillon is very effective – is structure/contrast important in getting the message across?
I think I’m most interested in creating the right texture and then once that’s established, letting it roll. Like a DJ building a live set, I suppose, I want to create the best possible performance by arranging the blocks in the right order so there’s a gradual ascent. But then, within a recording, the objectives are different. I love using a whole mess of different instruments that you couldn’t feasibly take out to a gig.
We don’t often play Papillon live because it’s all about the shifts in texture rather than the groove or energy. What it does have, as you’ve pointed out, is that massive shift of gear which is a device you have to use sparingly I think. Too many wild mood swings can demand too much of a listener. Talk Talk did it amazingly well on Spirit of Eden; it builds slowly then the massive shift in ‘Desire’ blows you away.
In terms of getting the message across – in Papillon specifically ‘how could we be so wrong’ – the shift from downtempo to full tilt should certainly draw the listener towards the words.