'New Beginnings' by Project OverloadReview
I must say how exhilarating I find it starting 2024 with articles on so many artists I'm just learning about & then sharing my experiences with you.
The focus of my excitement today is Project Overload: and since the band are all aged between fourteen & nineteen, you don't get much fresher than that.
The occasion for this article is their imminent release of their debut album ‘New Beginnings' (on 19th January) though those of you quicker off the mark than me may well have already heard their two singles, "Second Chances" and "Moving Mayhem" (which are joined on the album by "New Beginnings", "Messy", "Society's Standards", "Peace and War", "Nightmare", "Reassuring Sound of No" and "All Alone").
Founded as far back as 2017 as part of the Live on Stage project at The Tin by Tom Male (guitar), Callum Hall (bass) and Joe Friday (drums) along with Holly Dark (vocals) and guitarist Marcus North, the latter two having subsequently moved on, being replaced by Emily Birtwistle and Lucas Male respectively, to create the current lineup. Their repertoire (as heard on the album) is totally self-penned with input from all members past & present as the songs come from all stages of their career (in fact since recording sessions took place from 2022 to 2023, Holly & Marcus appear on a few tracks).
As those of you familiar with the supportive & nurturing work with emerging talent at the Tin might guess, production is by Mason Le Long whose own work is no stranger to the magazine nor "Hot Music Live Presents", perhaps most famously via Batsch.
It's probably high time that what Mason & his colleagues are doing in this respect receives higher public praise & recognition: in an area of artistic endeavour so dominated by short-termism, emphasis on sounding like successful artists and downright exploitation, providing space, time and mentoring for bands to grow together & to create original work of this quality which reflects who they are is highly commendable: in fact youngest member Lucas also fronts Loophole who are part of the Live on Stage project too. It's about time I wrote a feature on what's happening there.
In terms of indicators of how things are progressing for Project Overload, they've already played not only at The Tin but the Godiva Festival & the HMV Empire, their debut single "Second Chances" has exceeded 18,000 Spotify streams and BBC Introducing have played & praised "Moving Mayhem".
So what is all the fuss about?
Well they are damn good for starters. The constant playing, rehearsing and communal writing within a mentored environment has resulted in a really strong set of original songs so they have no need to lean on covers even at this early stage in the career but can send out strong signals as to who they are & what they are about. As my various musings in reviews indicate, albums are rarer now than they once were so it's a bold statement of intent for them to release so many tracks together especially at this stage: again, the confidence of youth can be detected and that's another cause for celebration.
It's conventional for the names of influences & comparisons to be thrown about when bands try to introduce themselves to new audiences & when media attempt to describe them. In this case, the band cite "Arctic Monkeys, Two Door Cinema Club, Lovejoy, Muse and Foals" as inspirations (and apparently they feature on playlists alongside the likes of Declan McKenna, The Strokes, Taylor Swift, Lana Del Rey, Arctic Monkeys, Radiohead, Olivia Rodrigo, Billie Eilish, Panic! At the Disco, beabadoobee and Van Halen which is impressively eclectic) and external commentators have suggested comparisons with The Primitives.
Starting there, one might add up the shared factors of a Coventry base, a female singer, some jangle and even more attitude plus a pop sensibility and come to that conclusion too. But I think it's at best only partially the picture and it's not fair on Project Overload to project them purely as a Primitives type band: it rather unfairly tends to suggest copyists rather than being inspired by them. Sure, I wish Project Overhead similar success & salute their similar infectiousness, but they are their own band with their own sound.
Emily sounds as much like Debbie Harry at times as Tracy Tracy and though that jangle is there, it's not as prominent as Paul's playing in the Primitives: the use of insistent chord-based riffs is their more significant approach. If people want to go down that route then that's their prerogative, but I'd like to suggest a bit of Altered Images as being a closer fit. Another aspect I like greatly is how Emily adopts the "less is more" approach to singing: favouring understatement for extra nuance an effect. If certain aspects of her phrasing resemble Ms Harry, then her philosophy is close to that of Alison Statton of Young Marble Giants: cool and fragile. As singers who seem to think that volume & showy attempts at vocal gymnastics equate to quality really irritate me, you can understand why I like what I am hearing here. (And it's fair, judging by the tracks on which she sings, that Holly espoused such an approach during her time with the group).
The main thing is that the band are catchy without being derivative: I get the idea that collectively & individually the band have absorbed much great music so have the ingredients to work with but then their collaborative approach means that they combine & mix the elements each brings so that something new emerges.
That means that despite a sort of trademark sound containing the elements mentioned above, the songs do have their own distinctive sounds & personalities.
I fully understand the process by which artists preparing to put an album out choose a few more "immediate" or catchy songs to release as trailers first & neither single surprises in that regard, though having heard them all now, it must have been something of a challenge picking two out: there are so many equally plausible options.
The band categorise their material as revolving "..around teenage life in the 21st century, touching on elements of loneliness and regret, but also hope and determination.." (though I salute their canny use of the qualifier "mainly" to allow for other subjects).
This rather suggests gloomy, gothy angst ridden songs which tells part of the story (especially the lyrics) but is misleading as a complete guide to the work of Project Overload: in fact ultimately it's those qualities of hope and determination which predominate and seem to shape the music itself. I hope you'll join me in enjoying the joyous defiance of "Reassuring Sound of No" which particularly articulates this and could well be a key moment live for them.
I don't think one should lightly underestimate the title they've given the album nor the title track itself: if they have a project manifesto, it's one of positivity and forward motion. Well-wrought pop with multiple vocals and an upbeat tune without the jagged edges found on the later cuts (it opens proceedings) it's certainly one of the potential singles I mentioned.
The other point worth making is that their songs are far from the self absorbed, solipsistic fare that the brief description suggests: they are very clued into bigger picture issues and how there impact upon themselves & their generation: "Society's Standards" and "Peace and War" most obviously offer thoughtful songs of a maturity beyond their teenage years. ("All Alone" is really the sole representative of the adolescent musing tendency, though "Messy" and "Nightmare" suggest that they don't think much about how older generations have left what they will need to fix. Can't say I blame them.)
From where I'm sitting, Project Overload have a very exciting & rewarding career ahead of them (and they are already writing songs for their second album and arranging gigs further afield). Their talent and hard work will help them fulfil that promise but it's worth considering that ongoing support and guidance from the likes of Mason are also part of that & I hope the high expectations of over-excited reviewers like me don't pile unhelpful pressure upon them.
The band launch their album at the Tin on 27th January (they promise three new songs in their set too): tickets are available via this link: https://www.ticketweb.uk/event/project-overload-new-beginnings-album-the-tin-at-the-coal-tickets/13264273
They will be supported by local band The Royals, and fellow (and younger) Live on Stage project band Scatterbrain.