"Breathe Juliet" by AfterKnightsReview
On reflection, I think it's an exciting thing that the first "Hot Music Live" review of 2024 should be for artists appearing for the first time in the magazine: what a strong signifier of the robust health of local music creativity & diversity.
Thanks also to local musical broadcaster, Street Arts Project founder and Stratford upon Avon Folk Club organiser and friend of "Hot Music Live" Doug Armstrong for bringing yet another talented group to our attention: on this occasion the duo AfterKnights whose current single "Breathe Juliet" is the subject of this debut article.
Since they only formed back in August, I have decided to let myself off the conscience hook of not having heard about them until Doug's intervention, though I did miss their debut EP ‘TreeTops' which came out swiftly after their creation (in September) plus the singles "Cartoonland" (from the EP) and "Thorans Thorne". One EP and three singles in only four and a bit months after coming today shows something of a duo with much to say and the talent to quickly articulate it.
AfterKnights do seem a little fixed upon an apparently slightly unclear parentage as they self-describe as both "the unwanted lovechild of Hozier and Ben Howard" and "the unwanted lovechild of Ben Howard and Radiohead" suggesting rather more parents than one might expect from just two people: perhaps surrogacy played a part?
At this stage, I ought to name the pair I suppose: they are singer Auckland and guitarist Shaun and they met while both working on a modern interpretation of Romeo & Juliet (written of course by pioneering Warwickshire lyricist William Shakespeare) in Birmingham: acting & providing the music respectively. The longueurs of a soundcheck brought them together to write this actual song and hence begin working together.
The pair have a neat line in modesty bordering on self-deprecation: they say of themselves that they are "… a degenerate nomadic musical duo that make arty weirdness….You might have seen us busking on street corners for spare change or gigging in dingy pubs for a lager and a stroked ego.." but that belies much talent & frankly idiosyncratic individuality.
You can instantly tell what Doug saw in them and it's clear that once up & running, they have honed what they do consistently and swiftly. It's interesting though, that although their first composition, they've waited until after other releases to share it: maybe it is influenced by being "…definitely our favourite, a tribute to everything we've already accomplished as a duo and everything we aspire to in the future…"
As you know, I do prefer the "weird" and unusual & "Breathe Juliet" is thankfully one of those peculiar and attention-grabbing songs which doesn't easily afford comparisons with other acts: the main tool of course for many reviewers but one I am always uneasy about deploying.
Apart from the aforementioned intricacies of their ancestry, they offer us a list including "Don McLean, Bon Iver, Bruno Major, Sharon Van Etton, Mercury Rev, Hozier, Hayley Heynderickx, Passenger and The Flaming Lips" as possible partial templates: encouragingly many to discourage linkage to one dominant source.
It certainly discouraged me & I simply luxuriated in the hushed, breathy and evocative voice of Auckland sitting just above and occupying spaces left by Shaun's playing. You know how much I like artists who use space as much as playing in their tracks & AfterKnights are obviously cut from this cloth.
It's intimate: a poem of encouragement to & empathy with the eponymous heroine, tastefully set within a cocoon of sympathetic melodies. I'd love to hear them play it live: but it would have to be in a suitable setting without distraction & an audience fully intent upon the performance. I honestly wouldn't want to hear it being spoilt for me by the distractions in "dingy pubs" let alone on street corners.
This is a beautiful start to 2024 (and I am lining up reviews already by some other very talented artists) and I agree with Doug: this is a very talented & articulate new group whom I look forward to writing much more about for you in the coming months.