Strength Of Strings, the new Keys single, is due to be released in June. However, since the good Mr Friend was kind enough to point me in the direction of a promo copy for sale, I can offer you an advance review. Firstly, a bit of background: After the demise of Murry The Hump, Matt and Gwion remained signed to Too Pure, although their first single as a group, Gurl Next Door, came out as part of a Boobytrap singles club deal.
As might be expected of a reduced operation, the songs are rather minimal, stripped-down affairs. So, are they any good? For me, it rather depends on my mood. Generally, where Murry were energetic (especially live), The Keys are reflectively composed and more relaxed than chilled-out. As with the previous band there are enough sublime harmonies and distinct vocals to give them a sound of their own - however, don't expect repeats of Thrown Like A Stone, Green Green Grass or New Deal. This is a new band.
Before beginning, I should point out that I cannot with certainty state that Strings will be released in the form I own, although it is an official printed CD-R with a catalogue number of PURE135CDS. Track listing is as follows: 1. Strength Of Strings [2:27], 2. Death Song [2:24], 3. Let Your Soul Be Your Guide [1:52] Since this is only the second release by the new band, I'll also be taking a look at Gurl Next Door [3:26], a double A-side which also features Listen The Leaves Are Falling [4:38]...
Mixing is rather variable... there is often a polarisation between the high and low end frequencies, a high degree of stereo separation and irregular volume, so this sounds far better through my PC speakers (which have a decent sub-woofer) than my cheap portable CD player. This isn't an unusual occurence with small artist releases, and is in some ways a great shame (it limits the effective radio-play a band is likely to achieve.) A further point is that, between them, these two singles clock in at under fifteen minutes. I agree it isn't a good idea to artificially drag out songs, but releasing these five tracks as an EP may have been a better selling strategy. I felt that Murry releases were similarly mismanaged, with a short album and some of the best material on the singles.
Track by track breakdown:
Gurl Next Door. With gently swaggering verses and cheerful chorus of "never felt this good before", this is an simple, honest and direct love song in a style a little reminiscent of Booze And Cigarettes, or the sadly unreleased The Smell Of You.
In contrasting mood, Listen The Leaves Are Falling is a longer, slower and gentler lullaby, nicely-controlled bass and strings supporting the rhythm and soothing vocals.
Strength Of Strings is the most forcefully paced of these tracks. The guitar-work and deep vocals wouldn't be out of place in a modern western or gangster movie. My only complaint is that it's rather short... another minute would make this a certain hit.
As you might expect, Death Song is rather funereal, keyboards complementing lamentation about an unspecified female. "This is a death song... but no-one has died..."
Let Your Soul Be Your Guide sees Matt rising in pitch, low drums and minimal guitars coming together in a quiet call for peace. Some of the lyrics bear the possible influence of Bill Hicks with the sentiment of 'life is just a ride'. Charmingly hippy love.
Having had a while to live with the songs, each has definitely grown on me since early listenings; as mentioned before, the sound demands clear reproduction from audio equipment. If you want music with a calming effect, I recommend The Keys. Otherwise, check out the album and two singles which Murry The Hump released on Too Pure for something similarly idiosyncratic. More information on the band can be found on Sara's official site, www.thekeysmusic.co.uk... or, another Welsh band following the "break up and return with a more acoustic set" route are The Crimea, formerly The Crocketts. More information on them can be found at www.inaudible.co.uk. I find that this Keys materials runs nicely into the Klutzville demo EP recordings. Happy listening! :)
. . . since none of the bands mentioned in this review are exactly mainstream, your best bet to track down releases is to visit the artists' websites for news and MP3s . . .