Mainly Genius


Review: Tom Stephens – Barricades (EP)

The term singer-songwriter can evoke different things in different people. To some, it’s a byword for acoustic tedium, uninteresting chords that have nothing to say that’s not been said before.

 But for those who appreciate the genre, it’s a word at the other end of the spectrum. It evokes emotion, creativity and boldness. It’s easy to be good but very few can be great.

Last year, Tom Stephens released his first ‘proper’ EP following years (both formative and otherwise) spent in various bands and musical outfits. However, he’ll tell you that the folksy acoustic sounds found on this EP are his first love.

Luckily for us he also adores giving away free music and would like nothing more than for us to go and download the whole lot for nothing. Always happy to help.

First EP Division (full review here) was, although a touch overambitious and muddy in places, an accomplished and brooding affair that was promising to say the least – but this year’s follow-up, entitled Barricades, has shifted priorities.

Opening track Berlin starts in a familiar, chordy way but soon becomes an example of the additions that have brought a new spark. The double bass is subtle throughout, leaving enough room for one guitar track to suffice for the majority of the song. But it’s towards the end that as the track becomes darker and the perception shifts. Slowly, layers of vocals and percussion are added to twist what was before a regretful lament into something much more haunting and foreboding.

A similar effect is achieved on Morning Song. Although the base of chords and vocals still exist from times gone by, there’s a constant edge that gives the track momentum.  Falsettos that would’ve been laughed out of the room last time around are rightfully given pride of place and the swirling harmonies recall shades of Hail to the Thief era Radiohead in their darkness. It’s no coincidence that this is by far and away Stephens’ best vocal performance on what is the record’s best track.

However, there does seem to be a slight struggle to retain a high production value throughout. Both Sea Panic and Start feel a little too much like fillers with the latter more B-side than anything else. A clunky, chugging acoustic makes it sound like an acoustic rendition of a far grander track and it although it does have a uplifting chorus, it doesn’t really have as much direction or ambition than others.

That aside, there’s much here to admire. Numerous flourishes build on and enhance the music, from the brushed snares at the end of Berlin, to the cracked yet brilliant vocal harmonies on Morning Song, to the brilliantly rich and natural guitars on Alter Ego (perhaps some credit should go in the direction of producer/engineer Joseph Buckler at this stage).

Whereas Divison seemed like an outpouring of ideas and melodies, Barricades is much more whole. The tracks sit more comfortably together and although there’s arguably less in the songwriting, this is more than made up for with the production. The bass is tactfully deployed and the vocals are more confident and more enjoyable than ever.

There’s no doubt that both Barricades and Division before it are slow-burners. You won’t find expansive drums and grand string sections. But you will get is more organic and much smarter – making it a far better listen in the process. It’s still not ‘that’ breakthrough EP, but it’s got the attitude of it, and there’s no doubt that Stephens has the talent to back that up.

Take 17 minutes, listen to what can be achieved with patience, care and a little ambition, and then go away and think about what you should’ve done.

Because I’ll bet it won’t be as good as this.

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Visit Tom Stephens (and read his quite amusing blog)

Or say hello on Twitter and Facebook.

Download Barricades free on Bandcamp

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Below you can grab yourself a copy of Morning Song and also listen to Berlin, the stand out tracks on the record. But why would you want to when the whole lot is available for free?

Tom Stephens – Morning Song

Tom Stephens – Berlin

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2 Comments so far
Leave a comment

Hey, I really love your song ‘walk me home’. I heard it tonight on FBI in the pines for the first time and downloaded it immediately.
I would love to learn in on my guitar.
Do you have a guitar tab for it somewhere online???

Thanks so much

Love your music.

Joanna

Comment by Jo

Hi Joanna,

I’m afraid you’ve got confused with a different but no less excellent Tom Stephens.
I’m sure when they both become successful there could be some problems there but until then I would say just enjoy them both!

Thanks

Comment by mainlygenius




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