7 July 2015

Grant Nicholas - Black Clouds

Well it is nice to know that some things still fly under my radar and make me look foolish.... only some much time in my world at time, the list of albums I want to review grows whilst the time I have shrinks; but these are personal problems and nothing to do with the review here.  What I am reviewing here is the second solo release from Feeder front man Grant Nicholas; until about two months ago I did not even know that there was a first one, which shows just how much the alternative and mainstream press have left Feeder and the members other activities to the side.  At one point, you could not move for Feeder as they were everywhere and this was a really great thing to see.  Reason being is that I had seen a band which had built its way up from the bottom up, they worked very hard and kept on plugging when the world seemed to not care with their early releases; then they became regulars in the charts and their music was on many radio stations and videos on any channel you cared to turn on.  Then the world seemed to move on, but the band kept on releasing good albums.  But back in 2012 (just as this blog started) Feeder went on hiatus after 20 years, as the band had not really stopped in all that period (even with personal tragedy to the band).  One of the things that come out of this was Mr Nicholas starting a solo career and his first album called 'Yorktown Heights'; it made the top 30 without any major media campaign and that is really good work in my eyes.  What we have here is the next release which is a six track mini album, the cover was painted by Mr Nicholas daughter and it also looks as if Mr Nicolas is going to put his solo work on hiatus to go back to Feeder (although this has not officially been confirmed) all he has confirmed is that his next batch of solo shows at the time of writing are going to be the last solo shows for a while.   So now it is time to find out what this sounds like....

As this is my first experience of Grant Nicholas solo work, I was not too sure what to expect apart from it might have some acoustic guitar; opening track "Black Clouds" (the title track of the album) is a clever opening to this album.  It does have an acoustic guitar in there, but there is a wonderful dose of bass supporting the acoustic strumming as well as a nice amount of synths and some clever drumming.  It feels as if there is an influence from Arcade Fire to the work, the vocals are not as high as I remember from Mr Grant and it a nice surprise to see that this has not gone down the route of 'I am a solo artist, I must do this on my own with an acoustic guitar' for the opening track - this is a great opening to this mini album.  The second track follows that pattern, the solemn "Better Days to Come" tells the tale of a relationship in struggle and the fight for the better days that are to follow on from those dark days.  You can feel the experience of Mr Nicholas on here, there is a small section on this song which does remind me of Feeder (I think that is something that happens with all artists who step out of their big band - you cannot help but be reminded of what else they have done, as it has come from them) but it is only for a few seconds and does not detract from the song at all.  It feels like there is many influences happening here as well as Mr Nicholas main band - a bit of Arcade Fire, Massive Attack, TV on the Radio all come to mind in separate parts of the number).  The midway point of this release is marked by the song called "Reminisce"; this is the number which does not quite gel for me, it feels a bit too much like it could have been by Mumford & Sons for my taste and it feels like it could be used on an advert for a cider or beer brand with that summer night scene when the young couple fall in love.  It is well played (that is something I would not ever say about any song on this mini-album), it will have a significance to Mr Nicholas in a way which is passing me by and it will be well received by some people, but it is not for this listener.

"Everyday Society" is a short but effective number on this release; a social commentary on the world as it should be with forgiveness and forgetting the past, the feeling of not knowing if something is ending or starting all tied together with a upbeat feeling to the music which makes this one of the best tracks on this number.  It might be short in length, but it is big in stature.  The penultimate track is called "Joan of Arc" and the gloom descends onto the listener from the beginning as the dark mood described on the weather mixed in with ghostly voices paint a picture of being near the end of sanity, all mixed in with an admission of guilt and seeking redemption for a past mistake.  It is the darkest number on offer here, with the feeling of betrayal and hope for absolution form past sins to be received - it is another song which cannot fail to impress the listener.  Ending the album is "After the Fall" which is the stripped back song that focuses on the acoustic guitar and whilst it could be a sibling companion to "Reminisce" in some ways, it is also a lot more effective that the former as well.  The fact it is stripped back and the focus is drawing to the minimal strumming and engaging lyrics is a really beautiful way to mark the end to this mini release.

I have a feeling I have listened to a companion piece before I have heard the main event with this one.  It feels very relaxed and with the exception of one song it has worked very well; but I wish I had have checked out 'Yorktown Heights' first so I could have seen the progression of the work; but I was determined to keep reviewing stuff which is released in this year.  But with that put to the side, I do think this is a charming and clever release which shows what a lot of people who are fans of Feeder have known for an awfully long time; this man is one of the best writers to come out of the England for a long while and is much more than "Buck Rogers" (as good as that song is).  Check this out, but possible after 'Yorktown Heights'.

4 out of 5 - This is really good, just short of perfect

Top track - Joan of Arc

You can purchase the mini album on Amazon here

You can purchase the mini album directly from the Grant Nicholas web store here

You can follow the activities of Grant Nicholas here

You can stream the mini album on Spotify here

You can stream the mini album on Deezer here

You can stream the mini album on Tidal here

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