Sunday, 3 May 2015

THE APRIL MAZE

CD Review

Sleeping Storm

If you are of a nervous disposition or afraid of the dark then maybe you shouldn't indulge in The April Maze's new album but boy what a treat you will be missing if you don't.

Sivan Agam and Todd Mayhew who are The April Maze.
Picture by Lilli Waters
Sleeping storm is an album packed with evocative music, haunting singing, enigmatic lyrics and a wide variety of chances for duo and married couple Sivan Agam and Todd Mayhew to show their versatility and talent for making complex and thoroughly sumptuous tunes.
The opener and title track introduces Agam's velvet voice which has a depth like that of June Tabor. The haunting sound she creates with the combination of her voice and drawl of her cello is so atmospheric you are engulfed in their world from the first notes.
Mayhew stays very much in the background for this, adding the harmonies and layers of percussion which give the effect of the rolling seas.
Their voices are equalised for I've Seen The Rain which is has a much lighter tone and gallops along at a stronger pace than its predecessor.
There are so many elements to this song yet the strands are blended together seamlessly to provide a complex and thoroughly indulgent sound which does have hints of REM about it.
With Scout Hall, there is something wonderfully retro about the sound of this track and it's so easy on the ear as Agam's and Mayhew's voices blend beautifully. It does also carry elements of a big production sound and as an added treat, among the plethora of sounds, there are the little gems of banjo playing. Agam opens Fantasy with the rasping sound of her cello, this track they keep simple allowing their harmonised voices to do the work for the most part. It's a wonderful example of the more is less ethos with the cello in the background acting almost as a metronome. It does give you a real insight into how good their voices are individually and, even more so how they mesh them together to make another equally pleasing sound.
Mayhew's opening, both in the sound of his voice and the style of music, of It's Been A Long Time Between Beers sounds eerily like Michael Stipe.
This is a fantastic ballad where Mayhew adds the power and impetus and Agam adds the nuances of harmony both with her voice and the lighter touch of her cello.
The cult film The Wicker Man
There is something very ethnic almost pagan about Homeland and once again the combination of Agam's earthy tones over the top of the undulating sound of the cello with Mayhew adding the occasional highlight of harmony and the understated beat of the drum.
You could almost see this as a procession song to somewhere such as Stonehenge as believers head for the solstice and it wouldn't be out of place in that classic and creepy film The Wicker Man.
Just when you have been wrapped up in their alternative world right out of left field comes The Bishop Who Ate His Boots. Mayhew comes in like a steam train and sounds like it was created for The Levellers. The track then morphs into a galloping range song which wouldn't be out of place on the set list of a First Aid Kit gig.
If this bit of fun doesn't get your feet tapping then you should check someone hasn't nailed your shoes to the floor.
What starts like the opening to some classical rock opera is suddenly exploded with Agam's gorgeously, sultry tones with Don't Let The Bastards Bring You Down. This again is very much in the vein of Swedish sister act First Aid Kit but Agam's voice makes the tune their own with the undertone of tribal drumming and singing landing punches like a boxer smelling blood.
In complete contrast the doleful and dirge-like singing of Mayhew brings in Fire with the lone drum and slight staccato strike of the cello give it slow procession feel. The languid pace is broken up by harder-hitting breaks where Agam's instrument kicks in with a deep growl.
Another slow ballad Inside Out follows this and seems to give a nod to the days of rock n roll the punchy electric guitar playing from Mayhew could easily be part of a soundtrack to a Tarantino movie. Agam has a torch sound to her singing as the throbbing picking of the guitar carry her voice along.
So Many Songs is another change of pace with Agam using a staccato style of singing and cello strafing. The rap-like lyrics come machine gun style building up to the big finish.
Mayhew has an impressive voice, it's full of emotion and when he chooses has this wailing quality and Leave It In The Ground showcases this side of his singing perfectly. Agam's cello goes up a notch as well to match the strength of his singing, the only criticism of the track is that Mayhew's guitar playing seems oddly out of sync and grates a little, never quite fitting into the song as a whole.
The final track of the album is a solid track but it's a bit of an anti-climax when compared to the standard of previous ones. It does again have that retro feel harking back to the "summer of love" sound.
Sleeping Storm is a really cool album, Agam and Mayhew have the whole package, they both have strong voices, they are great musicians and they have created a distinctive sound and come up with original compositions, what's not to like?

Sleeping Storm is released on May 4 through MGM records