Sunday, 15 July 2012

Saint Saviour - Union


Back when I was a wee lad - browsing on a computer full to the brim with overly-protective security software and an internet reliant on no one else using the phone line - I had this idea in my head that females to their own could not live up to the lengths at which their male counterparts could push the medium of music down emotively convincing avenues. A fairly bias and objectively-minded view I know, but it's safe to say twelve years of discovery have shifted that belief and opened my eyes to a lot more than just what was, for a time, a male-led market. Women of music, could be argued, are now becoming the ones with the biggest drive in today's changing culture of song-writing. Whether it be the mainstream or the underground; the record-breakers of sales or the lesser-publicized highly-respected, women have surged these past 20 years, and that's still down to a drive and a willingness to do what they enjoy best. While most may recognize England's Becky Jones as being one of the lead-guest vocalists for electronic dance carvers Groove Armada - last year helping them co-write one of 2010's underrated records of that year - it won't be that much a surprise if after 'Union', Jones' full solo debut under the name Saint Saviour, this will mark a rise in attention and reason to take note of this girl's equally-brimming passion and flurry in song-writing ability.

There's a certain tense yet deeply hidden honesty to the way Union's sound is projected. The opening track 'Mercy' reads like something straight out of a desolate late-night club, Jones' accompaniment of piano keys and frosty electronics tap away at the warming humbleness to her buttery vocals. Likewise, 'Tightrope' - with its percussive instrumentation and drawn-back echoing comes off in the same way the likes of Vespertine had in all its frosted-glass luminescence. Here though, Jones isn't one for simply masquerading a copy-and-paste as something fresh. The truth is, is that she goes beyond the effect-laiden vibes - hi-hat drumming and gorgeously soft harmonics adding that extra bit of humanity into the layering. Above all else, and beyond the simple case of mapping out the instrumentation for name's sake, it shows a deep and potentially over-looked hinting of an artist drenched in both the nostalgia of enjoyment yet the excitement for what may lie around the corner.

'I Call This Home' could be regarded then as Saint Saviour's (pardon the pun) saving grace against the risk of becoming too indulgent later on. Lush paddings of guitar strings and beating-heart drums lay out the vector for which Jones expands her acutely high enormity of voice, in both scale and direction, across the soundscape. Gone is the previous introversion and the more whispering-into-a-microphone deliverance, and in its place comes this explosion of sound which is rather fitting for a performance more on par with the baroque region of pop and rock music. Whether this album can be classed entirely as such a genre remains unanswered; Jones clearly demonstrates both knowledge and expertise in the beat-focused confines of trip-hop and disco in as equal measure she does the more ballad-orientated compositions we see in everyday music markets. Her work with the Armada might be the reason for this. It, in equal measure, might not. But for a sole female, she has the intensity and deliverance of an act four or even five times her number. 'Liberty' is a definite showcasing in this level of confidence, synthesizers a key and perfectly cued accompaniment in Jones' more alternate-placed lyrics: 'It's a question for you, it's a question for me/Are we really free?' Despite the back-and-forth nature here, it works surprisingly well against the mellow beat of something dripping in nostalgic dance memories.

Moments such as these run the risk, as noted, as being mistaken for missing the point or forgetting altogether that quality of deliverance trumps quantity. Jones may be sticking her fingers in a lot of music genre pies here - maybe too many, in some people's opinion - but the fact is, is that her confidence and trust in her own vocals is what stands out the most in this record. 'This Ain't No Hymn' is a continuation of Saviour's grand-scale deliverance of chorus drops and emphasis on harmony. Lyrics may swing to-and-fro and be devoid behind the veil of string instruments, but the accompaniment to the track's squawking of electric guitars and crystalline drum beats creates both something with rhythm, yet importantly, something with pace. Jones' biggest shift into full-scale rhythm and pace, comes in the shape of 'Jennifer' - glitchy tides of synth percussion and thundering guitar buzz create a bold yet moody atmosphere to a track shrouded in erraticism. Working just as well for the disco as it does the home stereo, it's a welcome reminder to Jones' musical physique with electronics.

The album closer 'Horse' may well be instantly recognizable for its similarity for most contemporary bands, in how outspoken and pouring with sincerity Jones' vocals come across as. It's a solitary piano that provides the backdrop to this rainy-mood self-analytical ballad, before the track ascends into a more outspoken and direct deliverance of percussion and supportive harmonizations that feel more integrated, rather than accompanied, to Jones' own expression. The track does however end on a somewhat unfinished unanswered disposition, but that in itself almost feels meaningless when you consider how solitary and little the song initially picks itself up and starts as. For a closing statement, it packs quite the punch in demonstrating how far - both musically and independently - Saint Saviour has found herself here.

It's that same longing independence I have to give full credit to on this, Saviour's proving ground as both a musician and a sculptor of the ethereally provoking through voice and instrumentation alike. It's this very tenuous nature that I find extremely appealing, because it's not just limited or even relegated to just one narrow (or even spacious) part of her sound. Rather, the feeling is all around us - within the music, around the music and even away from it. Jones I feel, because of this, is one of the few artists out there that can truly make a simple note or solitary pressing of a button on a synthesizer, come across as a lot more grander in scale and intensity, than what it originally is or ever was. It's not a vaguely-patterned rock construct masquerading as full-on disco, or even a synthetic outfit trying to sound humane. To put it straight, Saint Saviour has laid out a multilayered blossoming of maturity, that shows very little to suggest she is either hopelessly proud or self-made important. Importance, for that matter, doesn't even come into the equation. The only thing that does here, is honesty. And 'Union' is as honest and touching a record you may possibly experience for some time.


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