Thursday, 3 May 2018

EP Review | Thomas & The Empty Orchestra | 'Let Go' (2018)

image credit: thomas matthew bower

It’s obvious that the music of the 21st century is lacking something. Where are the Lou Reeds, the Bob Dylans, the Leonard Cohens of the world? There are inklings of these legendary singer-songwriters in the compositions of Americana musicians such as the late Jeff Buckley and the current, beautiful landscape of folk and soft rock produced by Lana Del Rey; an artist who often emulates the melancholia and poetry whilst also specifically mentioning the artists from time to time.  

But one musician in this genre just isn’t enough. There is a specificity in the music produced by the greats – and emulated by the likes of Del Rey – that only a chosen few can pull off. In an age of aesthetics and hipsters, many artists cloud this genre with their one-off, edgy hits that just do not cut it. You need to look deep to find those who truly walk in the footsteps of folk and blues and strive to keep the genre alive. Obviously, Del Rey does, and Buckley does also in the legacy he created for himself with just one record. Thankfully, there is now another name to add to that list – Thomas Matthew Bower.

Performing under the moniker Thomas & The Empty Orchestra, Bower takes no qualms in wearing his influences on his sleeve, which includes the likes of Paul Simon, Bon Iver, and Iron & Wine, with the obvious ties to Reed, Dylan, and Cohen in the lyrical landscapes that choose to traverse. He also takes note of the American emo scene, notably from the emotionally fraught sounds of 90s bands Sunny Day Real Estate and Jawbreaker. Dosing himself in pure emotion and immense drive, Bower’s latest EP Let Go leaves you wanting more, further demonstrating that the folk/soft rock and singer-songwriter genres of the sixties and seventies is truly alive, even if only through one musician such as Bower or Del Rey.

The four-track EP begins with the echoing guitar line of ‘In the Eaves’, producing a moody, melancholic introduction with definite vibes of Paul Simon in the vocals. It’s minimalistic in the beginning two minutes but eventually morphs into a slightly more upbeat tone once the drum and piano lines come in. Even so, there is still a focus on Bower’s vocal multi-tracking, giving forefront to the message of letting go (aptly linking itself to the EP title) to be sung rather than hiding behind a multitude of instrumentation and noise; something the likes of Dylan, Reed, and Cohen are known for.

Following suit is ‘Time Runs Out for Narcissus’, where definite 60s folk-rock vibes thrive. The reliance on computers and autotune is not prevalent at all here; it marks a need to return to the genre of the greats, as through this track (and those surrounding it), it offers such a close connection to Bower, his music and emotional depth and sensitivity. Moving back into a strangely upbeat groove with the utilization of major chords, ‘Blood Moon (No Friend)’ is juxtaposed by Bower’s seemingly downtrodden lyrics of a relationship breaking down (‘Please don’t tell me that you’re not falling in love … ‘You’re no fool for punishment / I won’t tear myself apart’ … ‘Time / Time ain’t on my side / Burns like a cigarette in the flesh of my arm’).

The EP then ends with the title track ‘Let Go’, a hauntingly sincere lullaby where Bower plays against a simple chord melody that says so much. ‘Let Go’ is the culmination of the four songs, where all the pent-up emotion is finally released creating a grand closure to a fantastic EP.

Bower and his outfit – Thomas & The Empty Orchestra – is the singer/songwriter we need and deserve in 2018, and hopefully is the one musician that will usher in a new generation of melancholic folk rock like those of the sixties and seventies that did before him. 



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