Red Tides – EP Launch and Review

31/08/2010

By Chris Oliver

Wild HourI love it when an audience spontaneously goes quiet – it creates such a palpable atmosphere. That is what happens when support act Joe Rose takes the stage. He sounds like he’s whispering in your ear, yet his voice has plenty of body. His guitar playing is similarly gentle, but it is deft, and captivating.

At one point he stops and says, ‘I don’t have any happy songs; if you get depressed easily, just go outside’. This kind of sums his music up – tragic themes and minor chords, tempered with just enough happiness or humour to stop it being self-indulgent or depressing.

Joe thanks the audience genuinely before introducing his last song, which has a hint of Dylan, and draws comparisons with Neil Young. While it is perhaps odd to hear a guy from Chorlton sing about California, the music itself works. Joe Rose is forging his own style – but it is not very ‘Manchester’.

Six-piece Red Tides could also be described as country music – or folk, if you want to pigeon-hole them in with the fad of the times. This is folk – but not the lightweight, happy-clappy stuff that is sweeping up awards at the moment; it is much more withdrawn and melancholic. The music is vocal driven, with prominent lead guitar, sometimes played on lap steel (for that authentic country feel). The drummer plays more like a percussionist, often very much in the background, but also driving some of the songs along with a lively shuffle.

The sound is well balanced; some songs skip along with bluegrass riffs and railroad beats, and others echo and sweep in waves of interweaving sounds. The two female vocalists work well together, sometimes harmonising and sometimes singing call-and-response, and occasionally joined by male backing vocals. This depth allows the other musicians to hold back and create an atmosphere rather than trying to fill the space.

A Fleet Foxes cover, ‘Tiger Mountain Peasant Song’, tells us a little of where the influences come from, but it’s harder to pin Red Tides down as sounding like ‘this’ or ‘that’. Their new song goes down well, but the set is short, leaving the audience wanting more. Good thing they all got a copy of the EP then.

Red Tides – Wild Hour

Release Date 06/09/2010 (Debt Records)

It’s hard to judge unsigned bands’ releases in the same way as large-scale commercial releases, but this is up for sale online [through Debt Records], so I have judged it a little more harshly than I might otherwise.

Opening track ‘Ponder’ is a lament of a relationship in its death throes. It is sombre and rhythmically interesting, in total contrast to ‘Be Bleak’ which is a toe-tapping number with a driving skiffle beat – although the lyrics are as bleak as the title suggests.

‘Lure Me Out’ starts slow, but it is skipping along by the end, and has probably the best of the generally impressive vocals on offer. ‘Aligned’ is a downbeat, atmospheric number with spacey lead-guitar reminiscent of ‘Lone Wolf and Cub’ floating over the top of the music, augmenting the melodies and driving the changes.

‘Black Breeze’ has an intro that sounds very much like 90s Britpop, but it remains chilled throughout, relying more on the vocals and lead guitar to drive it along. The recorded version has the energetic performance, but lacks the grunt from the rhythm section that would have made a real foot-stomping, danceable number that it could be – especially live.

That sums up the only major drawback of this EP really: it doesn’t quite match up to the energy and balance of the live performance. Perhaps it is because there is no bass guitar on here (which there was live), or perhaps it’s just the difficulty of really capturing music like this without big-budget recordings. That said, there is very little else to distinguish this from a mainstream release. It holds my attention and promises more. The melodies have been stuck in my head – and it’s certainly something I will listen to again.

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