Water Pageant are an Oxford based boy & girl duo that describe their music as 'electro dream-folk' with a sound that sits somewhere between alt-folk and 80's synth dreamscape.
'Outlines' is the duos debut release and would appear to be primarily the brain child of Nick Tingay who wrote all the songs as well as arranging, engineering and producing the tracks.
On the album, he sings lead vocals and plays classical guitar, electric guitar, steel string guitar, bass guitar, keyboards, piano, glockenspiel, elbow, percussion and floorboards. His musical partner, Lizzy McBain adds vocals, keyboards and piano. Additional musicians contribute guitar, bass, drums, trumpet and cello.
This all seems to have been something of a 'labour of love' for Nick as, according to the press release, after forming Water Pageant in 2012 he had been engrossed in writing the album ever since!
The duo have also been building up a bit of a reputation for themselves, particularly in the prestigious BBC Introducing world and comparisons have been made with Sufjan Stevens and Bon Iver, lofty company indeed.
Opening track 'Veils' sets out their musical stall with its beautiful, precisely recorded instrumentation and vocals, adding layer upon layer of sound. Nick has an interesting voice, somewhere between Cat Stevens and Donovan on this track and Lizzy McBain adds suitably spacey, ethereal backing vocals, which brings further depth to the song.
The second track 'Layers' has a sweetly picked guitar intro before Nicks vocal enters for a verse and then some lovely trumpet slides in somewhat unexpectedly. This heralds the chorus which has a real 'Stairway to Heaven' feel. Definitely, something of a retro vibe to this track and it is my favourite song on the album.
The comparisons to Sufjan Stevens and Bon Iver are understandable. The song structure, pacing, feel and that warm yet distant, echoed vocal sound all conjure up images of these two artists.
To me, it also has something of James Vincent McMorrow and Morcheeba in there as well. However, this is not copyist music; an original, independent mind is at work here.
The twelve tracks on this CD are flawlessly recorded, perfectly played little musical vignettes.
Accordingly, the listener's personal favourites are likely to vary considerably, but two other stand out songs for me are 'Catchpenny Tides' and 'Overlaps'. The first one boasts a lovely, picked electric guitar figure that pushes the song along sweetly and it has probably the most direct, immediate vocal from Nick on the album. His phrasing up to the chorus is all Damien Rice intensity and the song features the welcome return of the trumpet in the second half. Also, 'Catchpenny Tides' is a great track title!
'Overlaps' has a pushy, picked guitar intro and with what sounds like a cello in the mix this song has hints of Nick Drake, particularly with the phased effect that has the vocal appearing to fade in and out.
As I mentioned earlier, each song here is a little stand alone musical vignette. However, when listened to as a whole album the songs suffer a little from a lack of dynamic variation. Most of the songs are similarly paced, quite long and start with a lengthy, often picked guitar intro with the vocals and instrumentation gradually layering up through the song, which can become a little predictable. However, the other side of this of course is that it all creates a lovely mood and ambience so, as always, at the end of the day its all down to musical taste and preference.
Those that have placed Water Pageant alongside Sufjan Stevens and Bon Iver are not being overly effusive in my opinion; it is company they deserve to be in. I also think taking these songs out of the studio and playing them live will bring a little rawness and reduction to their sound, which in itself will make for a very interesting listening experience.
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