Hailing from Manchester and signed to Germany’s Haldern Pop label (this its first UK release), five piece band The Slow Show have the potential to prove one of the year’s brightest new arrivals. Well, perhaps not that new, given they’ve been together for some five years and have played to sold out houses in Europe; however, they presently still remain little known here, even in their hometown, with only one low-key EP to their name. That’s about to change with their debut album White Water, a collection of epic yet minimally arranged spin on the Americana genre.
As the name implies, this isn’t about driving rhythms and urgent, loud guitars, rather a case of atmospheric soundscapes and brooding, skeletal melodies over which Rob Goodwin’s baritone often talks the lyrics like the narrator of some noir compendium. The most obvious touchstone would be a cocktail of The Tindersticks, The National (they are, after all, named from one of their songs), Lou Reed and Bowie (and, while I don’t hear it, some say Johnny Cash), but without an obvious comparison to any of them.
They set themselves apart from the first track, Dresden, where an opening male voice choir gives way to a single stabbing piano note as Goodwin’s delivers an introductory monologue before the drums kick in, the ‘this is a breakdown’ refrain skirts close to him singing and cornet and tenor horn join the atmospheric swirl. The rain-washed streets mood of Long Way From Home suggests Reed’s Berlin album may figure among the list of influences, the shimmering pulse billowing out midway to embrace mushrooming cello and trombone.
Two numbers, Bloodline and Augustine, do take the tempo up a notch, the former (about an adopted family member’s search for her roots) with a resonant guitar guiding the rippling melody with brass and cello introducing a triumphal swell as you find yourself thinking of Editors before they discovered electronics, while the latter’s lyrically pleading last goodbye colours its walking beat with piano, brass and violin.
Elsewhere Flowers To Burn also gradually picks up pace, climaxing in a tumult of guitars, keys, strings and horns while Testing, co-written with Hannah Hird (Ellie Goulding’s backing singer and front-woman of country/pop covers outfit Queen and Country), ebbs and flows to string and French horn, briefly slipping into a brief waltz rhythm before the solo cello fades away.
However, dark, moody and emotive is the default setting, etched on the glass of numbers like the desperately sad cello-adorned, cinematic piano ballad Brothers (inspired by Goodwin’s grandfather’s account of losing his teenage brother to cancer), the melancholic strings-enrobed Bad Day and the desperate disintegrating relationship of Paint You Like A Rose.
There is though some relief from the despondency, with Lucky You Lucky Me of positively euphoric heart, with Goodwin describes the final track, the wearily waltzing God Only Knows, as being about “growing old with the people you love”, and while the lyrics are a little more ambiguous, the euphonium and tenor horn do impart a warm colliery band sound as it plays out on the repeated line “everybody’s home now”.
It doesn’t have an obvious, immediate radio play track to engage the masses, but, with word of mouth steadily building, having started out supporting Elbow don’t be too surprised if they end up emulating their path to the top.
Review by: Mike Davies