For fans of: Coldplay, Novo Amor, Bastille, Seafret, Dry the River
“I want to believe all is
well that ends well, but I just can’t convince myself”
–Mike Nelson in “Ghosts”
We all already know
that the more fraught an artist’s work is, the more I will love it. That’s why I was
initially enamored of BANNERS’ eponymous debut EP, but not entirely fulfilled
Mike Nelson: the man behind BANNERS
From the cathedral to
the stadium, Mike Nelson has
established himself as a worthy artistic contributor to both contemplative and inspirational
settings. With a background in choral singing and a falsetto akin to Peter
Liddle’s from Dry the River, Nelson
crafts a striking musical identity and an auspicious album under his new title, BANNERS. His single “Shine a Light” was
featured in the FIFA 16
Soundtrack, from which it garnered substantial attention and praise. In
an interview with Consequence of Sound, Nelson said “[Shine a Light] is about
feeling lost at sea and desperately searching for a beacon of
light. It’s about waiting for that one big wave to finally pull you under while
clinging on to that one last ray of hope. It’s a song to the person in your
life that offers salvation while the storm is raging around you.”
This compelling sentiment is tangible in BANNERS’ raw live
performances, but seems to be missing in the groomed EP version, which threatens to
drain the life out of the song’s stirring search for optimism. Because of this, “Shine a Light” isn’t the strongest statement made in BANNERS.
The often spellbinding opener, “Start a Riot,” has Nelson swearing to fight for his lover in any dire circumstances that come their way. The unique instrumentation carries the song, sometimes to its detriment, because the chorus can’t rise above the verses prior to it. The melody in the chorus should be the punchline, but it feels more like an afterthought to the oaths sworn in the buildup.
“Gold Dust” has an arrestingly minimalist intro and
distinctive melody, both of which make it one of the most memorable songs on the EP. Nelson
seamlessly shifts in and out of his falsetto, demonstrating both vocal prowess
and a captivating gentleness as he softly encourages his darling that even “when it’s all gone to rust”, they can turn it into gold dust. Ah, the romance.
The subtle integrations of organ and violin in “Ghosts” were a wonderful nuance, complicating the otherwise underwhelming ballad.
“Back When We Had Nothing” proves that “all is well that ends well” is an empty platitude. The finale is disjointedly resigned and joyful, remembering and seeming to celebrate an uncomplicated time when having nothing meant having everything. This doesn’t blend thematically with the other
tracks, and isn’t confident enough in its delivery to convince listeners that
this really is a happy ending.
BANNERS live at Rockwood Music Hall in December.
BANNERS is an impressive and powerful debut, but Nelson is too careful
with his creation. With this EP, he
demonstrates mastery of British alternative pop — but also indicates that he is capable of much
more than that. Each song resolves in subdued settling; it is too neat
and tidy to match the preceding lyrical and melodic pain.
I wanted to hear chaos and reconciliation in this EP – to feel the extremes
that are so beautifully conveyed when Nelson sings live. But such momentous territory
was only traversed at surface level. The clean, flat conclusions to allusions
of severe sadness left me somewhat perplexed. If Nelson lent his commanding
voice and broken lyrics to a more daring sound, he could transcend the brand of
restrained English woefulness that he comfortably embodies now. If the progressions following the rhythmically suspenseful
expositions of each song fulfilled their climactic promise, BANNERS would be a singularly profound voyage.
Standout tracks: “Start a Riot,” “Gold Dust”