Semaphore - EP
Bill Cummings 03/07/2006
According to their press release Italian/English band Semaphore are the next big things, they “must be heard”, which builds up my expectations to unrealistic levels even before I've pressed play, like, say, the English press building up England's world cup chances; only for it all to end in tears on missed penalties.
“Josephine” sounds vaguely like everything that's promised in Semaphore's promotional material: “melodic”, check; “dark”, check. Add to that “melodious” and hey presto you have Semaphore. In fact, this kind of passionate emotive alternative rock was once ten a penny. The opening bars are reminiscent of early Coldplay, all swirling psychedelic guitars, then there's that baritone vocal pitch that instantly brings to mind the Seal-esque vocal gymnastics of Eddy Vedder in his early days. Indeed this track is like Pearl Jam on acoustic duty, but the main problem is that it's just lyrically too conventional: female character songs with added cod philosophy might have cut it back in the early 90s and indeed many AOR stations in the US, but these days it sounds ever so slightly trite (“Hey Josephine give me something beyond my twisted fantasies/Something that's real.”) That's not to say this isn't accomplished music making: it's a very polished guitar track, and despite its formulaic melodic peaks and troughs, it contains a pleasing crescendo. It just lacks that edge or unique selling point that would ever grab you by the ears, and clocking in at over five minutes it's just too long.
“City” meanwhile kicks off with atmospheric squalls of guitar feedback before breaking out into a bluesy trot that's kind of reminiscent of Gomez, the treble vocal harmonies adding something different to the Semaphore experience. Even if it is in some ways more conventional, I find this track more pleasing than the first, the breakdown and the guitar lick at the end are especially breezy, highly melodic Americana; its nice harmonies are the ideal soundtrack in this hot weather.
“Princess In Chains” is a brooding monster; quiet dynamics suddenly explode into a Jeremy (Pearl Jam) style rocker replete with splendid backing vocals and an impassioned vocal performance, but does it really need to be five minutes long? By the end it starts to resemble a band jam that hasn't been properly edited down, not a rock track with an enjoyable beginning middle and end.
Last track “Lunatic” contains a different more plaintive vocalist and a folkier tinge, the opening downbeat minute or so sounds like latter day Pink Floyd, mixed with elements of the Doors. It sounds in part rather like a hippy ode to growing old. This kind of dark, medieval sound is the more experimental side of Semaphore and one of their more successful moments. Again, it's overly long but crucially it maintains interest throughout squalling guitars and its rhythmic last few minutes bring to mind dancing round a burning fire, or an old pagan ritual in the summer night.
My impression of Semaphore is of a very accomplished musical outfit with a bit of promise. But at present they are just too conventional to ever cross over into the wider music listening consciousness, despite flashes of real quality in general, their sound is too obvious and well worn. I also suspect the sheer range of styles attempted on these four tracks is telling, they are yet to find a sound that defines them as Semaphore, and not just another psychedelic bluesy rock band. My advice would be to get a decent producer, to take off the traditional rock and roll straightjacket and to create something more focussed and individual. Then we may hear something truly special from Semaphore.