In July 2014 Folk Radio UK covered the release of the debut E.P. from Essex based Mortal Tides, Break of Blue. The E.P. showed amazing promise and left us hungry for more. Since then, the band have been playing live across the south-east of England, appeared at a handful of festivals and have devoted a significant amount of time to writing and recording their debut album, Light In / Light Out. Due for release on 15th January, the album delivers on the promise of their 2014 E.P. with hypnotic vocals, stirring arrangements and poetic song writing.
Mortal Tides are brothers Noah and Jed Bevington, George Brignal and Fergus Quill. Noah and Jed’s most obvious talent is their perfectly matched vocal harmonies. But as we’ll discover, with Noah on guitars and Jed on fiddle and keyboards they have a lot more to offer. George and Fergus make up the rock-solid rhythm section; on drums/percussion and bass/double bass respectively. The music they write and play references a range of influences, from acoustic/electric folk to jazz, blues – from Charlie Mingus to Bon Iver. The song-writing echoes Nick Cave and Thom Yorke, but is already in a class of its own.
The stand-out track on that 2014 E.P. was undoubtedly Houses & Drums. George’s arresting stick-play opening, leading to Noah’s husky vocal was the perfect start for a dynamic folk-rock stomp; so it’s the perfect choice to open the album. After a short piano-led prelude, there’s a subtle re-working of the track for the album – a touch more power, and more sophistication in the strings. It’s a thoroughly intoxicating start, with a hint of a howl in Noah’s vocal that you just know is going to intensify as the album progresses. As the song itself says – “These roots buried deeply softly, speak to me…“, and there is surely something deep rooted in these guys.
The captivating sound premièred on that debut E.P. has been expanded in other ways too. Since joining Wild Sound Recordings the band have benefited from the presence of founder Polly Paulusma in the producer’s chair. Polly’s insight has led to inclusion of additional strings (violin, viola and cello) to supplement Jed’s fiddle with extra colour and depth; there’s more than a hint of excitement from Jay Plent’s electric guitar and warm, beguiling brass in abundance.
Although there’s a constant, and intoxicating, energy to the album, there’s enough variety in the music, and more than enough poetry in the lyrics, to keep things moving along and feeling fresh. I Grow Cold, for instance, employs a subtle reggae beat and quietly introduces electric guitar to the sound early in the album. Far from taking centre stage, the guitar’s raucous chords are heard in the distance, far behind the more gentle acoustic. Shadows, another song that’s enjoyed an upgrade since 2014’s E.P., displays an increased confidence in Jed’s piano, and added passion in Noah’s vocal.
By this stage you’re completely drawn into this album with no thought of leaving, and other aspects of this band’s remarkable sound begin to make their presence felt. No Midas employs enticingly gentle, but upbeat, strings; driven along by George’s percussion, to accompany a silky smooth vocal. And it’s here that Jed’s vocal contribution really begins to work it’s way through the sound, it’s here that we have the strongest indication so far of just how well-matched his light harmonies are. Perfectly balanced against the soft, acoustic background.
The lads, though, have become expert at building a sound. George and Fergus gently pick up the pace, you feel the rhythm build, and No Midas opens its arms to welcome the brass section in a glorious climax. The simple and effective vocal/guitar theme in Naiad I is given added depth for Naiad II. Increased urgency from the percussion and vocal, intensifying electric guitar and a song that’s strong on poetry work together to provide a track that lifts the album to a whole new level.
Mind you, it’s not all fiery beats, screaming electric guitar and thrashing percussion. Mortal Tides can display their gentle side just as effectively. Myriad has the same beautifully matched harmonies, even stronger imagery in the lyrics. The intensity, the tempo, the passion are all tempered – but the craft is still there in abundance.
You sail on and I’ll give thanks
To white shores and myriads of open seas
To rip this canvas from my eyes
Tear the ashes from the sky, till heaven yearns
Neither is the darkness ever too far away. Fergus brings his bass to the fore for a pulsing, sinister opening to Spires. An urgent piano, and the bitter resignation in the lyrics reflected by Noah’s lead vocal, combine to make this a track laden with drama.
Set aside your empty lives and pray
They lied and read to us
To harness, rise up,
Between the spires of decay
Oh but we found light, we found heart
In the honest words we sang
They’ll leave us all
In the darkness
The craft is more obvious in the structure, though, and the band can twist that structure on a pinhead. The Fall opens a post-apocalyptic dreamscape with a touch of fingerstyle guitar beside gentle fiddle and more of that ever-present and intoxicating vocal pairing; then a sudden stop sees the song burst into a full-on folk rock frenzy that will shoot like a high voltage shock through festival crowds this summer.
Mortal Tides have been getting themselves noticed and building an audience in their home area of Essex. Their lack of wider coverage is easily explained – when you’re still at school touring can be an issue. That, however, must all be about to change. With the release of Light In / Light Out and a handful of live dates in Cambridge and London, Mortal Tides are about to make their presence felt in a big way.
Let’s get past the age thing; it’s going to be the main talking point wherever Mortal Tides are introduced. These guys are young and their music belies the fact that they are all in their mid to late teens. What they’ve achieved so far in terms of song writing, arranging, instrumental and vocal skills shows a remarkable level of artistic maturity. What really interests me about the whole age thing, though, is this is Mortal Tides at the start of their career. This is a young band just beginning to bud. At the moment they’re reacting to their various musical influences, emulating the artists that have inspired them; but with no lack of their own ingenuity. What’s going to be even more fascinating than this singularly impressive debut is what the future holds for them – as they mature as individual artists and as a collective unit, forming their musical independence. Mortal Tides are clearly destined to do great things. Light In / Light Out sets them firmly on that path, in what is sure to be one of the most notable debut albums of the year.
Review by: Neil McFadyen
Released 15 January 2016 via Wild Sound Recordings
Pre-Order via Amazon
The band will also be visiting Fopp Cambridge on Friday 15 January – 5:30pm to perform live and sign copies of their new album.
Photo Credit: Dickon Bevington