OK, before I get started with this, yes I’ve been away for a VERY long time and been away for all of 2015! The scene was unfortunately dealt a serious blow with the now permenant closure of the renowned music venue The Wetmore Whistle and thus the gigs have been sparce and the apathy factor has been aplenty.
I look to remedy that for 2016 as I realise that while the gigs in Burton may not be so frequent and the amount of bands for articles may run out, the music itself certainly isn’t. That’s why Brewtown Music will be doing music/album reviews from bands who I may or may not have already covered on this blog.
Band articles are definitely still a possibility, but this will be a different direction I’m taking and isn’t necessarily what I started the site up for in the first place sue to music reviews being an overly saturated market compared to pieces on musicians themselves, but it’s a new year and it’s been a year since I’ve written anything, so let’s get to it!
For the long, long, LONG-awaited milestone 25th piece on Brewtown Music, we take a new approach for a new year. Not writing about a new band, but reviewing an album of a band already written about on this site. Star From Ivy‘s newest online release which is so good you could play it loop, 2016’s Circularity.
Just to recap, Star From Ivy are a Burton-based rock four-piece (Chris Baldwin, Daniel Baker, Steve Gibbs, Mark Maczkowski) who have been performing all over the country since 2001. But over the last few years, they have been putting together a big online project/album that was released one track per day since Christmas Day of 2015.
With its own website and world-famous recording studio at the band’s disposal, they set out in creating an online, multimedia exploration of the concept of circularity through positive themes of peace, love, unity and even some darker themes of war and depression.
The aforementioned world-famous recording studio was that of Rockfield Studios in Monmouth, Wales which, since 1963, has recorded albums for the likes of Black Sabbath, Queen, Super Furry Animals and Turbowolf just to name four!
It also has another Burton-based alumni in Kitten Pyramid, the eccentric Midlands supergroup (of which SFI lead Chris Baldwin and guitarist Dan Baker were a part of) who recorded their album Uh Oh the studio once occupied by Freddie Mercury in 2013.
Their labour of rock-based love was released Twelve Days of Christmas style from December 25th to January 7th (going one step beyond, Madness style) on their Circularity Facebook event page and Brewtown Music is here to see what our true band gave to us…
Track #1: Call To Alms
We start the cycle with Call To Alms, an anti-war song that was released by SFI on Christmas Day. A Lennon-esque move if there ever was one! Containing themes of war, human rights and peaceful protest, the album starts off on a socio-political note and a clever pun on the phrase ‘call to arms’ signifying that we should trade our acts of violence for acts of charity. War and Peace pertains to the theme of Circularity with various acts of violence instigating war and ceasefires bringing about peace in a seemingly never ending cycle depending on what area of the world you live in. That of course is a simplified version of an incredibly complex issue so I will just stick to talking about the music now. The music is forceful to match the theme of violence, but the lyrics reflect the need for peace:
Put the fire down, look into the body.
A soul so beautiful just strewn around.
Like an edifice blackening us wholly.
There is new belonging wanting to be found!
The waste of life that comes from war is lamented here and the only solution seemingly available is “A Call To Alms, and it’s all we have now…”. A strong start to the album with the contrast of a loud declaration of peace and demand of human rights.
Track #2: A Reason
The Boxing Day track A Reason is a much more laid back track with its ambient electronics mixed with a gentle guitar riff. The lyrics explores reasons from something as complex as the meaning of life to being kind towards others. An appreciation for our own existence and the existence of those around us:
Hold up the Sun! Cos we’re all Alive!
Hold up both hands and say you survived.
It builds us. It calls us. It saves us.
But there must be A Reason to live.
I don’t suppose you’d lend me your fears, so I’m not bold?
I don’t suppose you’d lend me your years, so I’m not old?
I don’t suppose you’d lend me your coat, so I’m not cold?
The phrase “Hold up the Sun” from the Reason article on the Circularity website “is a celebration of life, and an appreciation of being here now!” Caring for yourself and those around you is a mindset that features heavily on circularity.org and this song sums it up very well.
Track #3: Sounds Like Crows
You know, for a song about death, this is pretty jaunty! Sounds Like Crows is a song that has been in SFI’s back catalogue for quite a while now like a few of the tracks on this album, as in back to their Prologue days. The song, as said before, tackles death but is also a continuation of the theme of appreciating the life you have from A Reason. It’s like the song said: “Hang on! Hang on! I haven’t finished helping you to make the most of your life yet!”
Preserve time, there’s no way to rewind.
Yeah, this instance will not occur again.
All this love that echoes out disguises rage and I believe that I,
In spite of all these years, am still a child and do not think that I will ever die.
It’s good to know that in this album with a running theme, that there are sub-themes that link together as well which is the sign of great consideration and thought in your work.
Track #4: I Can’t Breathe
Now, here’s a track that shows no dissonance between music and lyrics! A hard rock number gripping themes of depression, inner rage and the darkness that dwells within (hard rock, not prog metal!). I Can’t Breathe is on the surface and angry song, but it’s a frustrated and scared song when dug into it a little deeper knowing that mental health is looked at here and is further explained in the song’s sub-section on the Circularity website. But the lyrics make it plainer to see in the song itself:
I don’t see no light, I just feel the fire burning me inside.
Mercury is on the rise.
Broken rage of old, swallowing the white.
Balance overthrown, compromise a waste of time
I can’t see it, it’s out of my sight
I don’t need it, get out of my mind!
Don’t believe it?!? Just wait til I fly
The song is also a great showcase of Daniel Baker’s guitar work with a soaring solo before the final chorus. A very dark song that is as much a part of Circularity as a vicious cycle more than anything else. Definitely one for those who feel trapped and need to free some of that tension!
Track #5: Imago
Faith and religion has been able to unite millions of people to a common cause which fits under the banner of Circularity, though the song Imago does appear to look at a more humanistic and secular approach to world unity as well. Deriving from the phrase ‘Imago Dei’ (Image Of God), this acoustically-driven track (with an electric solo mind) ponders whether it is better to have belief in a deity or not:
Want to wish the world away?
To draw a line to Everest?
Rid the world of sin and saint?
Rid the world of all this love?
I don’t need Imago, I just need to come back down.
For all my life I’ve waited for Him.
This could be seen as quite damning of religion, but the Imago page does include a quote from Article 14 of the UN convention on the rights of the child saying: “You have the right to choose your own religion and beliefs. Your parents should help you decide what is right and wrong, and what is best for you.” It definitely takes a more balanced approach knowing that while there are great reasons for a more secular society, it is up to the individual about their religious alignment and how it affects them personally.
Track #6: Slumberland
Sleep is a natural recurrence, unless you’re an insomniac, so of course it would be #Circularity. Sleep is needed to replenish your body and mind, but when you’re sleeping, you can be at your most imaginative, intentionally or not given the freedom you have to think of whatever you like during them. When you’re sleep-deprived, the need for rest and the avoidance of any social activity even with your partner is usually evident and is noted in this song:
I crave for a sight, and a sound, and a drink.
My decency rules in the land of OK. It’s a shame that that place isn’t here.
This time I am sleeping my dear. Do not try to wake me.
This time I am breathing my dear. Do not suffocate me.
Though this song is by no means a lullaby with its heavy chorus so it’s hard to feel sleepy (which is a good thing since you don’t want a song putting you to sleep when it’s trying to entertain you!), but the lyrics do convey the need for sleep in terms of escaping from the real world, being one with your thoughts and having the need to keep coming back which, quite frankly, is a good thing both physically and mentally.
Track #7: Wall Of Sound
Now this is a track you would have thought would have had a musical fit for Slumberland, but here is a light, solo acoustic song from Baldwin that is a song…about songs! Well maybe not quite that simplistic, but music is definitely the focus here, in a literal and metaphorical sense. With the purpose of Circularity here to be a call for unity through music, this is very much a symbol of that notion. Whether through teaching children to learn music or weaving a poetic image of love:
I’ve got a brain and I know how to use it; I’ll teach them to sing and I’ll teach them to play,
and then we can make sound til the day that we die and harmony echoes around, my love.
You’ve got a heart and I know that it’s broken; the pulse is arranged in the strangest of ways.
But we can unite and make regular tempo, and create the rhythm of life, my love.
The Wall of Sound recording technique as popularised by Phil Spector could be an ironic reference here given that the recording technique itself was meant to give free range for artists to include large orchestral accompaniments in their music. That is not the case here with just one man singing and playing his acoustic guitar being as far removed from that vision as you can get. Still, well worth a listen to for appreciating the power of music in a stripped-down fashion.
Track #8: Soul
A hard and heavy song in the same vein stylistically as I Can’t Breathe, but thematically is much more defiant and empowering. We all need to find ourselves and our own identity at some point in our lives and be true to ourselves in the face of adversity. Now whether you want to interpret ‘soul’ as being a religious connotation or a personal connotation would probably depend on which side you took on Imago, but either way, the song fits both sides well.
I am a liar and you are on fire yet all I inquire is ‘I got Soul’.
I am the wire and you are on fire and all that I know is you’re my heart’s desire.
I’m raising the ocean. I’ll cause a commotion and all that I know is that ‘I got Soul’.
This is more of the Circularity of oneself and feeling whole in oneself rather than a collective unity. Play this one when you’re feeling doubt in yourself.
Track #9: Blood
Don’t worry, this isn’t a gothic vampiric anthem dropped into your album about unity and togetherness! It’s a song that fits right in with the theme of charity and good deeds with the image of blood flowing without a heart and that’s just a mess right? A call for empathy and compassion reigns true in this number. Blood without the heart has no use and therefore, poetically speaking, has no real feeling behind it.
What is Blood, an emptiness of heart?
What is Hope, I need it from the start.
We wait in line for security but we are one and all eternally.
Cos I can feel it in my heart.
And oh, my, we went too far.
We didn’t know to be with it.
And I know that you pray to God cos you don’t wanna deal with it!
That last line, while continuing the religious undertones set by Imago and Soul, is not necessarily a jab at religious thought processes, but more of a way of saying that people must show that they care about those in need rather than just saying they do because they don’t feel that they can themselves. Another track that calls for more care for others.
Track #10: The Only One
Now here’s one that will be very familiar to people who have seen SFI perform live for the past ten years! The Only One has been the opening song for their live sets for quite a while now, but is track ten of fourteen here. Regardless, it’s great to hear it get an album release! While there have been religious-themed songs on this album, there hasn’t been one that has looked at the concept of there being an afterlife for us when we die specifically. The idea of an afterlife is a source of comfort for many who fear death so it’s nice to have a comforting and melodic song giving that notion some thought.
And we wait for love, and we break for love and find the only one is opening a door.
As we fake for love, we erase the loving of the only one who’ll catch us where we fall.
Cos we won’t be around forever, and we won’t be around til Kingdom Come.
So we live here in this moment – The Only One.
And when we understand this notion that everything that’s ever been will go.
Our impermanence is only. The Only One.
A subtext of true love could be found in these lyrics with not realising that as we wait for love, someone has always been there to catch us when we fall and that we should cherish the moments that we have with the ‘Only One’ and the use of the word ‘impermenance’ shows the idea of wanting to stay in that moment because it won’t get better than right now. It’s a multi-layered song in lyrical content and musical production with the ‘REV phrase’ (reverse sound engineering) created by bassist Gibbs that produces a backwards instrumentation that can be heard at around 2:30. It’s trippy and provides a celestial and astral feel to the song that’s already existential enough as it is! Definitely recommended to hear a long-standing SFI song given the full Rockfield recording treatment!
Track #11: Proud
Pride in your own or someone else’s accomplishments and creativity is great feeling especially if you are a parent trying to encourage the potential that your child has or if you yourself need to find a way to unlock your own potential on your own whether it be through practice of a certain skill or inner/outer exploration.
The quiet came to aid our thought, we focused on the emptiness.
And you came like you had no choice, and you screamed til you had no voice.
So release the fire, betray the night – come on we’re trying to save your life in the fire.
You wonder why you’re changing.
And you wonder why we’re changing.
You wonder why it’s changing.
A slow, yet joyous and passionate song that will be sure to fan the flames lit after that first creative spark. Welp, this is sounding more like an advertisement than a review isn’t it?
Track #12: Circularity
And so we come to the title track! A title track should be seen as the representation of the album, a condensed and abridged version of the album. The track Circularity does this very well, featuring a change in musical style from verses to chorus to reflect varying styles (the lighter style of Slumberland to the harder style of Soul) to the lyrical content which looks to call for unity amongst our fellow man out of personal belief of a better tomorrow and the fear of global disharmony.
I believe in clarity, a simple singularity engaging.
Where everyone believes that everything perceives all.
A radiance outside of me, a chance to see that all of this inflaming is borne of all a blurred and discontented soul.
But there’s a kind of elation that’s transcending us to perfect bliss.
Yet there’s a sense of frustration that’s corroding everything!
Yeah, I know that I’m ‘only’, but I just can’t perceive myself.
There’s a sense of a longing; that we need circularity.
Yeah, we know that we’re lonely, but we’re losing our sense of ‘self’.
There’s a sense of foreboding that we need circularity.
The screamed lyrics of the second paragraph contrast with the softly sang lyrics of the first paragraph and create a piece that summarises just how close, yet so far away we are from creating a better world. #Circularity indeed!
Track #13: Lifelines
The penultimate track on this cycle talks/sings about how we could always use a little help despite knowing how much we already know currently in our life. Even if we’ve decided we don’t need our Imago or we have each declared “I GOT SOUL!”, there’s still uncertainty felt in our lives so just in case, give us a lifeline to fall back on just in case it all goes tits up, to put it a bit more bluntly than usual in this article!
I commit to a lifestyle, a creed and a brand of submission.
There’s a paradox somewhere that I will believe.
Now it’s time for us to get higher. Yet I do not know if I can see it, but I will in time.
In this life, yeah we’ll be all right – just as long as there’s Lifelines.
Heavy, but with a calmer pace than tracks like Sounds Like Crows, this track provides a good final release of energy before our finale, which is…
Track #14: Answers
Who can provide the answers that we need? Though they vary greatly from person to person, the need for answers and guidance is a universal need whether spiritual or physical. This slow, piano-driven final track shows us that we can either wait for answers or we can find them ourselves through individual journeys or journeys with others that we take.
And I’ll wait ‘til Heaven’s stars can tell me where you are.
And I’ll wait ‘til all the skies point to where you lie.
And the oceans drift apart to lead me to your heart.
And golden autumn leaves fall into our dreams.
Yeah, I wish to see you grow into fire, into soul!
Yet I’m standing in these shoes just to warm them up for you.
Because you can see it real, and you can see it clear.
And I can hold my heart on offer from my palm.
Can you give me Answers, please?
“We’ll get some answers…soon.”
Whether you see this as a hopeful or a somber note to end the album on, it’ll definitely leave an impression with what songs have preceded it. Like the title track, there are also combinations of themes from other tracks such as the consideration between humanism and religion “Faith and Science fused” (Imago) which seems to bring Circularity, shall we say, full circle.
To conclude, SFI have produced an excellent album in Circularity. Each song is well-performed, well-recorded and written with a lot of care and precision as to really give the project a sense of focus on the one true goal which is the one true goal that they wish everyone from all walks of life to get on board with, you guessed it, Circularity! Personal recommendations would be I Can’t Breathe, The Only One and the title track but that is just me. You will find what you’re looking for I’m sure!
Be sure also to check the feed of SFI’s Facebook page as their posts since each track has been posted have article links to world events that match the theme of a song name with a hashtag of said song name, like an article on Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson’s battle with depression is followed by #ICantBreathe. It’s a good way to promote the album and start a productive discussion.
Anyway, that is all from this landmark first of a piece on Brewtown Music! Let us know whether you enjoyed the review, if you enjoyed any of the tracks you may have listened to and we will see you next time for another hearty review brew of Midlands tunes.
Circularity Website: http://www.circularity.org/
Star From Ivy Official Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/starfromivy/
VultureHound interview on Circularity by Thomas Miller: http://vulturehound.co.uk/2016/01/star-from-ivy-circularity-the-interview/
CREDIT FOR PHOTO: KIMBERLY BAYLISS