'Second Wave' by The Silver Wye

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'Second Wave' by The Silver Wye

Review

It seems ages since I last wrote a Silver Wye review: in fact it was over two years ago when their "Hitman" single came out.

Founder Wes Finch has many outlets for his deep well of creativity and interests so it's hardly surprising that any given project might be placed on hold for a little while: his work with Stratford's Street Arts project will have taken up much of his time lately, not least via the significant expansion of the activities of the ad hoc band WLDFLWRS which the professional musicians who facilitate the songwriting sessions put together: the fundraising visitation of "The Last Waltz" being too good to limit to a single performance: a national tour has now been drawn up.

But in the moments between the demands of WLDFLWRS, The Mechanicals Band and sundry others, here comes the ‘Second Wave' EP from The Silver Wye.

I've been lucky enough to hear the recorded tracks prior to Mason Le Long mastering them for release, but such is their inate excellence that his input will only take them higher.

The four tracks are "Turnaround", "Gospel Oak", "Heal You" and "Holy Cow (What if Today)" and in terms of who plays on it, credit goes to fellow WLDFLWR Jack Blackman for guitar on "Heal You", Wes and Matt Lakey for guitars on the other three tracks, John Parker for bass and Ben Haines for percussion and synths. Ben mixed and production was courtesy of Wes and Ben with input from John & Matt.

If you factor in the participants on the previous Silver Wye releases (and most of the singles were collected together on 2020's ‘First Wave' EP/mini-album) then you'll get a sense of what the entity is: an outlet for certain more experimental compositions of Wes' (originally more electronic than traditional folk) and so musicians have appeared as appropriate: excepting some live releases, the element of continuity has been Wes himself, while Leo Steeds, Luke Dibbs, Isaac McInnes and Bradley Blackwell have featured on earlier recordings.

For quite a while, due to the commitments of those who appeared on studio cuts, live renditions tended to be as part of solo Wes gigs, thus appearing in different guise to their released versions. These days as his recording collaborators have converged with those he plays gigs with, so the divergence will have narrowed.

That said, he's been working some of these songs up for a while to perfect them in his own mind: regular attendees of his gigs should know "Gospel Oak" well by now and both that and "Turnaround" have already appeared on live releases: "Gospel Oak" even came out in demo form on the 2020 ‘Variations' EP.

In line with the two EPs and roughly equivalent evolution in personnel, this "Phase Two" of the project has distinct differences to first tracks. The latter seem crafted with disregard as to whether they'd be played live in the precise form made in the studio: and I don't think they ever have been. These latter-day ones do seem to anticipate concert reproduction.

The experimental aspects remain, but are perhaps less extreme in what comes out of your speaker: we are talking more about odd, esoteric arrangements & processed instruments/vocals rather than full on electronica and musique concrete.

The wispy otherworldliness is a constant though. Silver Wye releases have often coincided with celestial or astronomical events (I suppose they all might, were I more informed on such matters), and these continue to appear in & shape both songs and moods of songs. Frequently Wes appears as an observer from far above rather than in midst of the emotional action as he is with his "main" canon of work. I say "frequently" because there are glaring exceptions to this tendency: some Silver Wye songs are deeply personal. However, this opportunity for dispassion gives him scope for more disturbing subject matter such as "The Getting Place" or "Hitman" songworlds in which their creator appears not at all: which really isn't the case for the vast majority of his songs.

I can't therefore suggest that project indicates a temporary desire to lay aside creative subjectivity for objectivity (that really isn't the case some of the time), but I do think that it is one of the defining factors.

With a musician of this level, leaving space within songs is part of his skills. Nevertheless, and despite the calibre of the people playing on the songs, the Silver Wye sound seems to take this idea further. If Occam's Razor applies to music, Wes & co seem to wield it fairly ruthlessly.

In lesser hands, these aspects of the band, ruthlessness, iciness, otherworldliness etc add up to a package of alienation. With musicians this skilled & with their empathy for humanity, this never happens. How they do this, I'm not sure. If I understood it fully, then I could do what they can, which I certainly cannot, so I can only admire what in some ways is a highwire experiment.

These are very humane songs: in fact, the spirituality which has been evident throughout is perhaps a bit more prominent this time out. It's easy to speculate on the history of "Gospel Oak" but hard to come to a firm conclusion. That it's dear to Wes' heart is clear: that would certainly account for a factor of aiming to perfect it. T might simply have been awaiting the right team to be able to assemble in order for it to be recorded. At any rate, to my ears, during its evolution, it has become more haunting, and I think slower in delivery. My personal suggestion is to consider my thoughts on the WLDFLWRS gig: many of the best performances on the day were of songs by The Band (performed by WLDFLWRS in Stratford United Reformed Church) which SOUND spiritual but which have never been decisively pinned down as overtly religious: they had a certain transcendental effect which I & others noted and which may have convinced them that they'd made something special: worth taking to other audiences. Part of that magic may have rubbed off on "Gospel Oak" and shaped its final form. It is (I think) capable of being interpreted in both religious & secular ways, but it certainly exudes that spiritual aura which "The Weight" does.

If so, "Heal You" (reinforced by Jack's presence) might fall into an equivalent category. Musically it's closest to Wes' main body of the tracks here and the spiritual sort of language & expression coupled with Jack's exquisite lightest-of-touch blues moments, connects with some of what Van Morrison has long done: and Van of course appeared at the original Last Waltz…

"Holy Cow (What if Today)" is far too skeletal to compare with The Band or Van Morrison (and one thing it does is to demonstrate the diversity of what The Silver Wye come up with even within the project parameters). It's the closest in sound to Phase One I suppose with strange electronic noises (generated by guitar by the sounds) yet I wonder how close it came to be being delivered a cappella? For the early sections, the voice is so dominant that the occasional instrumental sound seems added simply to defer to convention of having them on songs. A little later we get a break from the singing to provide a fairly minimalist and very laid back instrumental section (I couldn't call it a solo) and these add colours to the whole, but all in all this is a prime example of that razor being used judiciously.

"Turnaround" is yet another kind of thing altogether: in fact it was the track which I had the hardest job processing to anything like my adequate satisfaction.  The immediate response was surprise at the sound. If this is Wes attempting to explore new territory & confound his fans' expectations, then he's succeeded. To me it summoned up memories of the sort of pop experiments of the early 1980s when new technologies meant that new sounds could be offered to the palettes of musicians. Quite a few sections might have been the sort of thing which the likes of Tears for Fears or Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark might have contemplated. Even the bass playing is a revelation: I've heard John perform with so many diverse artists but never like this: again my thought drifted to the era when the distinctive playing of Pino Palladino was ubiquitous. I mean it doesn't even sound like a double bass he's playing. Hats off to The Silver Wye for boldness in going somewhere we didn't expect & without recourse to the avant garde: this is a fine pop song, just one we couldn't have foreseen.

The fine, soaring guitar (and to be honest, Wes rarely goes in for classic solos of this type) ensures that this is not some exercise in retro (the bands I cited above never took this route).

Although "Turnaround" shares the same characteristics of other Silver Wye songs: sublimity, light, optimism etc and like them seeks to find common ground between the higher planes & the foolishness of mortal behaviour, this one is so chock full of accessibility of philosophy and offering of achievable advice, coupled with its lushness of setting, that it sounds like a potentially successful single: whether in 1983 or 2024. Odder things have happened, and it just goes to prove that exploring your own creativity does not necessarily mean descending into obscurity nor exclusivity. Maybe Wes is thinking on similar lines as he & Johnny Holden have made a video for this song which they will unveil when the EP is launched.

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