Friday, October 4, 2013

WMP Nominees - Zervas & Pepper

My Welsh Music Prize mission has cruised past the halfway mark and, with Swn Festival mere weeks away, I'm picking up speed. As I mentioned on Wednesday, every Album Wall blog post for the next fortnight or so will be WMP-related, so settle in and catch up here if needs be.

If The Diary of Me sounded just like Cardiff, then Lifebringer is the sound of two people who have imagined themselves away from Wales and mentally emigrated to California. Zervas and Pepper sound amazingly similar to the likes of Neil Young and Joni Mitchell, and that's really rather impressive for a duo from just down the road.

No, it's not the album version, but it's a good example of what I'm talking about.

I like albums with multiple vocalists, and these guys pull the same trick as the Future Bible Heroes did on Partygoing, that is, taking it in turns to do the lead vocals. This keeps things fresh and interesting throughout; Zervas kicks things off with Buffalo Crow (the one in the video above) before Pepper steps up to the plate and knocks it out of the park with the very Mitchell-esque Living in a Small Town. Zervas then serves up Jerome, a tasty, cowboyish mini-epic, and so on and so forth. They're very good at their harmonies, of course, so the truly solo moments are few and far between; even so, this friendly album-length duel between two vocalists keeps the listener on his toes quite marvellously.

(Incidentally, how good are 'Zervas' and 'Pepper' as musical duo surnames? I was amazed to find out that that's actually what they're called: Paul Zervas and Kathryn Pepper. They deserve to be bigger than Simon and Garfunkel just for that.)

For my part, I prefer Pepper's voice, but I think that Zervas wins the battle by dint of the quite stunning Sure Fire Bet. Once again, my favourite song on the album is nowhere to be found on YouTube, but it's worth buying Lifebringer for this track alone. It's got a really arresting tune, the chorus is wrapped around a great recurring line ("It's a sure fire bet/I will surrender the closer you get"), and the main riffy sort of thing is strangely reminiscent of Manic Monday by The Bangles. Yeah, you're curious now, aren't you? it better than Praxis Makes Perfect?
It's close, but no cigar. Having to answer this question at the end of every WMP blog I do is increasingly frustrating; I'll listen to a very good album like Lifebringer, find myself pretty much bereft of criticisms to fire at it, and still have to end the review on a sour note because, for all its merits, it doesn't grab me quite as firmly as the Neon Neon album does. It's not like I'm only allowed to enjoy things that are better than every single other thing I've experienced up to that point; imagine finishing a thrilling, thought-provoking book, putting it down with a satisfied sigh, and having your reverie interrupted by somebody yelling, 'yeah, but it's no Hitchhiker's Guide, is it?'

No, Lifebringer isn't The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, but it still has plenty going for it and very little going against it. Not every track is a Sure Fire Bet, but even the most pedestrian moments have something to offer: whether it's the John Grant-style sci-fi synth solo on Lookout Mountain or the lovely flute parts on Ghost Dancer, there's always something to hold your interest.

I haven't decided which nominee I'm tackling next. Will it be Trwbador? Metabeats? One of the other three artists I haven't gotten 'round to yet? Come back on Monday to find out.

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