Shhhapes!: The Shape of Apes to Come.
DL / CD
Release 14th October 2013
Cardiff’s Mark Foley brings together some big names from the South Wales music scene for a new project. Nat Lyon enjoys the results.
Mark Foley has been a very active member of the Cardiff music scene for over ten years. Aside from his various music projects, he also manages the highly regarded Musicbox Studio – which has further broadened his circle of collaborators. Foley is an artist that is in demand – so much so that when he first conceived the Shhh…apes! project he probably did not imagine it would take five years for the resulting music to see the light of day. But that day is finally here, and in mid October, The Shape Of Apes To Come EP will be released, coinciding with the band’s appearance at the SWN Festival.
Shhh…apes! brings together a group of some of the top musicians from South Wales: Andrew Plain, Stuart Michel, Jonathan Rees, Lewis Griffiths and Lianne Franci. Many of these folks have played together in a variety of other bands such as Vito, Strange News From Another Star, Martin Carr’s post-Boo Radleys project Bravecaptain, and The Secret Show. Collectively, this group shaped (no pun intended) the sounds that comprise The Shape Of Apes To Come – but it is clearly Foley’s hand on the tiller piloting a ship full of extremely talented musicians.
The Shape Of Apes To Come is an interesting hybrid of post-rock and sonic experimentalism. This is not music for a casual listen. The song structures are complex, the lyrics are emotive, and the musical arrangements are well constructed – yet unpredictable (this is my idea of a great combination). The songs move from sparse and minimal to spacious and noisy and are in all cases well composed.
The five songs on this initial release clock in at around 25 minutes. The opener, Painkiller, provides an excellent introduction to the Shhh…apes! sound. Minimal, but strong percussion, glockenspiel tinkling, over-driven (but not overdone) guitars, and layers of processed keyboards. The vocal harmonies on each song, provided by Foley and Lianne Franci, range from reedy to almost cavernous, and the sound of these two voices carry the melodies. Painkiller starts quietly with a plucked electric guitar, but the sound quickly swells. Given the history of Foley and his collaborators – there are lots of studio tricks at play, which keep this 6:28 song from turning into a plodding drone or succumbing to gimmickry. It grows and evolves as different layers of instruments fade in and out. Foley’s voice has a bit of traditional Welsh folk phrasing – and the lyrics have a sentimentality that is slightly haunted by the music and the effects. This combination works beautifully, due to the skilled writing, expert performance of the group, and the masterful engineering.
I Am Thin also runs past the 6-minute mark. Like Painkiller, the build is slow and carried by an interplay between electric guitar and keyboards, which are joined by brass as the melody slowly takes form. Nothing is rushed – the composition is almost architectural in design – taking on an almost Philip Glass sound in the repeating keyboard motif which suddenly fades to vocal harmonies and a solo piano. ‘The walls of your home are thin. The air in your home is thin.’ sing Foley and Franci. Then the piano drops out and we’re left with just the vocal duet, sung against a distant backdrop of guitars. Then as the song ramps back up processed percussion comes in to the mix and the guitars turn reverb heavy. This is well composed ballad blending traditional Welsh folk elements with smart studio craft that is very reminiscent of a piece from The Antlers’ album Hospice.
The pace quickens slightly on Fall which cuts to the chase with, ‘When you face the wall – you fall.’ The guitars come to the front and there is a very accessible structure of verse/chorus that propels the song. The full drum kit comes into play for the first time on the EP and the now familiar vocal harmonies bring energy and urgency to the song. A drum/guitar feedback break builds and then resolves. This is a rich and well crafted piece. Fall is not a happy song, it’s almost anti-pop but the performance and production are both engaging and hypnotic.
The shortest song on The Shape of Apes to Come is Three Horses (4:05). The vocal pairing of Foley and Franci provides a mournful, and almost traditional ballad but the guitars and percussion add a layer of tension to the song. Like all of the other songs on the EP this is not your grandmother’s ballad this is the sound of our time, and our post-modern digitally processed emotional bullshit issues. The emotions on Three Horses are not forced and not contrived – they are very authentically delivered in the lyrics and the music.
Angel Calling Down, the album closer, is the one song that most closely approximates the traditional indie/rock genre – and it moves. It is certainly not a pop song and the anti-pop label fits well with Shhh…apes! The full drum kit drives the song. The vocals provide the melody and the entire band lets go. The horns blast, guitars come in and out of the mix as punctuation marks, and the glockenspiel provides sparkle. Angel Calling Down is a down tempo rocker, and it ends almost too quickly, meaning Shhh…apes! have done their job – the EP ends and you are left wanting more.
The Shape Of Apes To Come is an extremely well produced and ambitious piece of work. Foley’s vision and songwriting are impeccable and the band fires on all cylinders. The production work by guided by Charlie Francis is clean and sonically distinctive. Nothing is overstated or overdone, which is surprising, considering that the first two songs run over six minutes. If you are looking for some truly innovative music for your nocturnal groove The Shape of Apes to Come certainly delivers. Let’s just hope that we won’t have to wait five more years for their next release.
You can catch Shhh…apes! at the SWN Festival October 19.