There’s something very right about pledge campaigns and crowd funding. The idea of an artist and a community of their fans working together to raise what it takes to get a new record made is just a great idea on so many levels. At its core it represents a connection that as fans of music we all make. It also comes with a level of trust in the artist, before even a note has been struck, to deliver the goods. Not just make the record but make a good record to match the anticipation.
OK, so maybe that’s also true of buying a CD off the shelf that you’ve never heard, but it’s also investing in the artist’s time to help realise the ultimate expression of their creative process. I’m sure there are many examples where it has all gone well and satisfied people hold CDs, records, artefacts or have shared moments with artists that they love in exchange for getting them going on a project, but when the results are as good as Sam Brookes Kairos, then surely this is proof of spectacular success.
We reported on the Pledge Music campaign back in December and it was well on target then, but thankfully the finish line was crossed with some to spare, allowing the album to be made with the help of producer Greg Freeman, in time for release on March 17th.
In fairness there was a fairly sure bet about the whole process, Sam doesn’t lack profile having toured extensively and attracted the patronage and kind words of Ray Davies and Newton Faulkner. Sam is out and about with the latter as I write, but the former has dubbed him, “Absolutely amazing,” a recommendation that just has to be taken seriously. Sam has also curated London’s Unplugged Sessions, rubbing shoulders with the likes of Pete Roe and Lucy Rose amongst other new-folk hipsters. Another string to his bow and outlet for his obvious talents, likely to get him noticed.
If his style betrays certain classic influences, with the likes of Bert Jansch and Davy Graham, Joni Mitchell and more picked up from his father, Kairos is anything but a pastiche of folk greats. His voice certainly has something of the slippery, multi-octave reach of Tim Buckley and the gentle blur of John Martyn, enhanced by a near-field intimacy in the recording. Yet at the same time you can also picture him, head back, eyes closed letting it rip. Boy does his voice soar when he does.
Buckley apparently developed his vocal range in his own ad hoc way, trying to imitate the lines of jazz players, the upper reaches of the trumpet and the lower depth of the baritone sax. Sam’s training may be a might more formal, in that he’s spent some time as a chorister, learning how to use his voice properly, but it’s no less captivating.
Both melodically and in the inventive sound-scapes this has a lot in common with the likes of Choir Of Young Believers, whose beautiful, haunted music has found on outlet through moody, subtitled noir that has become the heart of my Saturday night, courtesy of BBC 4. There are also little hints of Bon Iver in the mix, although Sam is rather less opaque than Justin Vernon.
Of course, Sam Brookes sounds like all of the above and none of the above depending on your own points of reference and besides, can offer enough that is unique to impress on his own terms alone. And that starts right from the outset as Intro lives up to its name and introduces this song set. Fittingly it’s just his voice that opens up with, “Down in the bleak I can hardly see, you often shine a light for me, I cannot be heard, I hear your every word.” With cavernous reverb the effect is absolutely transfixing. The instruments that join are heavily treated and layered, climaxing in a quick echoed loop that segues into the second song.
Numb opens in an equally powerful way with a ripple of finger picked guitar and, “My worst I’m a terrorist of love, my best I’m a king of compassion, from a long line of doing it wrong, I strike a melody to sing me right.” There’s a low pulse of bass and kick drum with a thwack of snare. But then as he sings “Oh where is my love,” his voice hangs only to feel the gravity of a low harmony as he completes the rhyme with “For I won’t be coming home to night.” The pay off is greeted with what sounds like an ominous clap of thunder and every hair on my skin stands proud, to meet the electric storm.
The following James by contrast is breezy, rising out of the subsonic conclusion of the previous song, Sam’s voice is double tracked and split hard left and right, but melodically this harks back to Laurel Canyon, yet still manages a little sonic trickery up its sleeve. There’s a drop down that just sort of floats out, “Sometimes James,” the way the syllables are extended almost suspends time itself.
Crazy World And You, returns to a more overtly adventurous sonic backdrop. Sam sings, “I’ll change my day if you need me most, escape from the crowds just to be close.” There’s the need to flee the city and get back to nature, birdsong included where, “Out in the countryside where’s there’s just the crazy world and you.” A rat-at-at of snare drum is a very Bon Iver moment and around Sam the multi-tracked voices build to a powerful chorale.
While that last song seems to have a sense of peace, Frequency is altogether more storm tossed and brooding. The muffled percussion and cascades of piano heighten the tension and release effects, so that the refrain of “The frequency jams in a strong wind and turns your gaze to dry land,” is veiled but nagging and potent. His troubles seem to linger though This Is The Place, as Sam sings, “Getting tired but I am strong, mindless demons they do me wrong.”
There’s a literal pause for breath before the intimate One Day captures just Sam and his guitar, with just the vaguest ambient background noise. It’s a song that could easily, be overlooked as simple singer songwriter fare, but the spartan setting creates a contrast that instead makes it a stand out moment and another that sends a static tingle through the senses.
Picking up that thread, No Time could have been plucked directly from Joni Mitchell’s songbook, just as she hit the leading edge of her jazz years. Sam seems desperate to break with his routine and once more escape is on his mind. That sentiment reverberates through into On The Mend as Sam sings, “The city’s never felt like my home, don’t know what I’m doing here and I feel so alone.” Both tracks feature a might more electric guitar and the former has a middle eight that nudges the record gently into indie-rock territory.
It’s picked up by the climatic Breaking Blue. Sam sings, “I’m not sure of what I feel, if what I touch is even real, this plastic love just hangs around.” But there is hope yet of redemption as he launches into the anthemic refrain of “There is a love, there is the light, every time it’s such a fight, I want to start anew, look to the sky for breaking blue.” The solution is finally in reach as he confirms, “What I need is good friends, a warm hand to help me mend.” It’s the longest track on the album and towards the climax, Sam puts his voice through the range and gets the support of another heavenly multitude of layered harmonies.
This is a stunning work on so many levels. I’ve heard some good stuff this year and each CD makes claim to sound quite unique, different and special on its own terms. Kairos is no exception. What is exceptional is the young talent that Sam Brookes is proving to be. Kairos is an ancient Greek word for time, a partner to the word chronos. Where that latter describes the passage of time, Kairos is more about the quality of time, it could be the right timing, an opportunity to be grabbed, but there is no set length. It’s also a moment or a period where everything is possible, everything happens and that’s Kairos, all 42.04 of it.
Review by: Simon Holland
Kairos is self-released on 17th March 2014
Mar 02 Guidhall w/ Newton Faulkner, Portsmouth,
Mar 03 De La Warr Pavilion w/ Newton Faulkner, Bexhill On Sea,
Mar 05 Roundhouse w/ Newton Faulkner, London,
Mar 06 G Live w/ Newton Faulkner, Guildford,
Mar 07 Great Hall w/ Newton Faulkner, Exeter,
Mar 12 Carlton Cinema w/ Hot Feet, Westgate On Sea,
Mar 13 The Lighthouse w/ Hot Feet, Deal,
Mar 14 The Grain Barge w/ Hot Feet, Bristol,
Mar 17 St Pancras Old Church w/ Hot Feet, London,
Mar 19 The Railway w/ Hot Feet, Winchester,
Mar 20 The Brunswick w/ Hot Feet, Hove,
Mar 21 The Gulbenkian w/ Hot Feet, Canterbury,
Mar 24 Gullivers w/ Hot Feet, Manchester,
Mar 25 Oporto w/ Hot Feet, Leeds,
Mar 26 Nice ‘N’ Sleazy w/ Hot Feet, Glasgow,
Mar 27 Sneaky Pete’s w/ Hot Feet, Edinburgh,
Mar 29 Old Bridge Inn w/ Hot Feet, Aviemore,
Apr 01 Malt Cross w/ Hot Feet, Nottingham,
Apr 02 Bicycle Shop w/ Hot Feet, Norwich,
Apr 03 Theta Cafe w/ Hot FeetIpswich,
Apr 04 cb2 w/ Hot Feet, Cambridge,
Apr 09 Blue Sky Cafe, Bangor,
Apr 10 Lamp Leamington Spa,
Apr 11 Four Bars w/ Hot Feet, Cardiff,
More details here: www.sambrookes.com