Cedar - Black Sparks EP

Bill Cummings 13/11/2007

Rating: 2.5/5

It must be hard being an unsigned band in the current music climate in the UK. It's always the quandary how can you sound new and original in a sea of mediocrity? How can you be individual when every big label knocks your demo back with the dubious piece of advice “sound more like the most commercial sounding “indie” pop bands in the charts.” (Razorlight!!!?? Please god no!) Watford four piece Cedar have been hard at it for five years, their new EP “Black Sparks” shows they've worked on a definable sound which has been honed after hours on stage and in rehearsal rooms, even the production is very shiny and commercial sounding, for a unsigned CD. That this EP is so brazenly influenced by a few acts (Oasis, Embrace, The Doves, Paul Weller) isn't the problem, it's more that the clear potential here isn't quite being realised because of a feeling that they haven't quite outgrown those influences yet - a feeling that never escapes me throughout my listens.

“I Am Because You Are” sounds like Be Here Now era Oasis from the off, chiming guitar chords and big cavernous drums open out into something very expansive, vocalist Matt Churchill adopts a pleading vocal tone that's reminiscent of Mr Noel Gallagher, offering up the heart on the sleeve self confidence in its main lines (“I've got no time for heroes/but I'll never lose my faith.”) And that's kind of the problem with the melody here it never seems to step up and out of the one or two melodic ideas and thus ends up rather sounding a little repetitive and one paced in places, the outros stream of guitars sound a bit like the multi track soundscapes that swamped that expensively assembled flop of an album.

“She Said All These Things” rushes into view, and its stinging guitar line pierces your middle ear. Its almost pre-Britpop reminding me of the old indie compilations I used to pick up in dusty record shops back in the 90s. I quite like this, the screeching licks, dexterous bass and quicker rhythm give this track a really enjoyable oomph, coming on like early Blur in a blender with early Charlatans, the melody line is really refreshingly UP in its chanted chorus complimenting the whole track very well.

Third up is “The Weight Of It All” one of the best things here circular, almost psychedelic guitar riffs, and military drums constantly hint at the Doves' “Pounding”. While the arcing, wistful, Oasis-esque melody does seem a little repetitive in places its all neat enough, burrowing its way into your head, the vocal line rising and peaking pleasingly against an insistent rhythm with intricate licks that break out into a swirl of colours by the end. One does wonder, though, whether it actually goes anywhere definably new or individual. That feeling is cemented by “Last Of Our Kind”, which reminds me of one of Be Here Now's bsides, or Northern Uproar's work. It's a wash of guitars and rhythms while backing vocals are used well to back up the main swaggering vocal. Lyrically this reaches towards the positive and unifying but ends up sounding a little clichéd in places.

That said, Cedar do have potential and the last track proves a much a more sedate affair. “Radar” is a more modest number; Matt's lonely vocals quiver heartbreak against a simple backdrop that rains down sparks. It's almost early Snow Patrol in its construct. Ross' guitars are the stars here though, rising up from solitary strum at the start to metallic waves that crash in the night sky by the end.

Cedar do have something, its well crafted guitar music with an accessible sound and its heavily influenced by the musical style of some of the 90s more successful commercial bands, which makes them sound a little bit different right now. But you have to wonder whether this EP is them fully grasping their potential, because right now much of it sounds too derivative, and in places a little one paced lacking the really consistent spark to make them stand out from the crowd. It's a problem many bands have early on in their development, but if they can continue to progress, improve and develop an original voice maybe, just maybe they could just walk out of the shadows cast by their heroes and into their own light.