Shady Bard - From The Ground Up

Bill Cummings 05/06/2007

Rating: 4/5

From the Ground Up is the new album from Shady Bard, a quite brilliant new outfit who came from all corners of the country settling in Birmingham. Their line up is an eclectic miniature orchestra of pianos, guitars, casiotones, violin, cello, French horn and samples, which burst into atmospheric instrumentation. This album's themes are so relevant, the concern for our planet, it bares witness to the coarse, harsh beauty of nature, watches it being destroyed, and voices its disapproval. If you axed “From the Ground's” heart in two, its tree roots would lead you back to other modern albums about the environment including Pulp's “We Love Life” and British Sea Power's “Open Season.”

Their closest cousins might be GIITTV favourites Radiohead, iLiKETRAiNS and Low - Shady Bard's front man has a similar Lawrence bittersweet air, his voice same magisterial melancholic longing, but musically this is a more stripped folksy sound that builds into waves of delightfully yearning instrumentation comparable maybe to Hope Of The States early work, or the recent album by Fields. It may be stripped down but it's ambitious in its scope.

Opener “Fires” is ushered in by a simple plucked out acoustic guitar that leads us into a warm gathering soundscape that envelops your heart rather like a Spiritualized at their peak. While "Bobby" opens with a glorious piano motif pianos run like finger tips through your hair, what immediately strikes you is Laurence Becko's quivering vocal, a song about a boy who wants "to shoot the sun" opens out into a metaphor for the human race's destruction of the planet it peaks upon a sighing melody ("We're all the same in the end/We're all to blame in the end"), where Becko is joined by the gentle tones of Jasmin Hollingum. It's a gorgeous song and the most immediate thing here.

"Treeology" is the canter piece of the album, Becko bares witness to a tree surgeon whose attempts to save an entire forest with creosote end in devastation (“what an earth did you think you'd achieve?"). The subtly restrained instrumentation builds and builds into something quite special, never quite spilling over into a cacophony of sound, simple but effecting.
Old single "Penguins" is quite brilliant. Gorgeously aching acoustics unfurl like a hedgehog, blinking into the sunlight. Its simple clear lyrics (“Nature we really don't hate you/do our best not to hurt you/We promise we won't desert you.”) could sound trite in another vocalists hands, but Becko's passionate delivery bristles with intensity and honesty. The second half of the song takes off into another place. It's within the long, brooding, building dynamics that one can hear touches of the visceral rhythms of Mogwai or the sheer life affirming beauty of Sigur Ros. The organic cohesiveness of their dusty retro instruments works in harmony to create something very special indeed.

The title track is another case in point as guitars lead into organs, and orchestration, and a rhythm that unfurls into post rock dynamics. A particular highlight is the spitfire drum patterns that beat a path towards the end of the song. Final track “Summer Came When We Were Falling Out” sounds rather like Sparklehorse, the weary, croaky, vocals; the organ notes delightfully caressing your head as Becko's voice aches with longing.

“From the Ground Up” is an album that revels in its own sense of humanity. Sure it's about the destruction of the world, but one gets the impression that this record is just as much about the destruction of our inner worlds. In short, it has things to say, which makes it stand out given the current musical climate of lad bands that seem to be more concerned with clubbing and girls than the state of our humanity. The sound is perfectly balanced, none of the over production that often occurs when young bands are let free in a studio. The sound is warm, and modern, yet folksy and human. Producer Robin Housman has succeeded in allowing these lo-fi songs space to live and breath - they spread out into delightfully wonderful musical passages. It's one of the best debut albums I've heard this year.