By One Day, After School...
After appearing on several Geek Pie and Philophobia compilations, and releasing a demo earlier in the year, One Day, After School... release their debut EP, 'Prolefeed.'
Fantastically-titled EP opener 'Hey Podgy!' is a song of two halves, and the leap between the two takes some getting used to. The first half, is a clunky, country-infused teeth-rattler. Clucking cowbell, jangling tambourines and some very prominent drumbeats, makes this the type of song that aims to get the listener stomping their feet and whistling along. The low production gives it a 'live' edge that makes 'Hey Podgy!' the perfect antidote to too many polished-to-within-an-inch-of-their-life albums.
Initially, you'll be unsure about the second half, as One Day, After School... bring in the skittering, drum-machine beats and brassy keys, which feel way too harsh after the gentle, country swing of the first few minutes. However, after a few listens, the second half will no longer be quite such a shock to the system, and you'll see that One Day, After School... were bang-on in thinking 'Hey Podgy!' needed an extra, final boost. Although, perhaps not quite that much of a boost...
Second track, 'That Party Spirit...' is an awkwardly put-together ragtag of instruments. Despite beginning with a sedate, country-influenced swing, One Day, After School... quickly enter quirkier territory. The verses of tambourines and cowbell should by all rights sound like a mess, but it's actually the perfect prelude to an equally unusual chorus that bounces brassy harmonica off jangling tambourines.
'That Party Spirit...' is a song where you can see all the seams and joins, and it's a complete stranger to any post-production gloss. But, therein lies its charm. Back-to-basics, back bedroom-produced music.
The harmonica is always an easy instrument to get wrong, but in 'Softly Softly,' One Day, After School ...somehow manage to manipulate this dodgiest of instruments into a beautifully mournful wail. It would actually be pretty heart rendering, if it wasn't laid over the top of a crunchily artificial beat. Puttering drum-machines and harmonicas were never meant to mix. The same is true of 'Softly Softly's raw acoustic guitar and tambourines, which jar unpleasantly against the drum-machine.
But, the music isn't the only thing that's frustratingly hit-and-miss. On the verses, Dean Freeman's vocals are very erratic, as he lunges time and time again for high notes that seem to be just out of his range. However, on the choruses Freeman turns out a richly emotional warble, so, why his vocal performance couldn't be consistently strong, is anyone's guess.
Also sure to raise questions, is the instrumental tacked onto the end. Crunching beats, harsh chords and marching drumbeats merge into a crackling wall of sound. While there's nothing overtly wrong with it, you won't be able to shake the feeling that it's unnecessary, especially when the main body of 'Softly Softly' is a well-rounded, fully-formed song in its own right.
A little more vocal control on the verses and the removal of that patently false-sounding underlying beat, and 'Softy Softly' would be a perfect, summering ballad.
'Former Ex Lovers' also loses points due to some erratic vocals. You'll wish Freeman would just find a happy medium, and stick with it. 'Former Ex Lovers' is built, unsurprisingly, on an acoustic guitar, but it also features an electric guitar, which glimmers and rings away in the background, giving this song a summery shimmer. The highlight is the bridge, where the electric guitar takes on an extra, hazy vagueness. It works surprisingly well next to that clattering acoustic guitar. Another charmingly rickety One Day, After School... song, with some added sparkle.
'New Ways To Be Playful' sees the return of those blatantly machine-produced beats that'd ring untrue in any song, but are a particularly bad fit for One Day, After School...'s under-produced, organic-sounding minimalism. It feels even odder against 'New Ways To Be Playful's crystal-clear guitar picking, as Freeman tweaks out a simple refrain over a loose bass groove. 'New Ways To Be Playful' sets out to be the perfect accompaniment to a lazy summer's afternoon, and it would be, if it wasn't for that puttering beat.
'Final Act / Last Scene' descends like a hush, and you'll be compelled to strain and catch every note. Its softly shimmering guitars and tender vocals, are far more mature than anything else on this EP, and when the vocals spin off into an echo effect, the atmosphere is chilling. Even the fuller and more forceful-sounding choruses, doesn't destroy the mood. A backdrop of echoing electric guitars expand 'Final Act / Last Scene,' and give it a nudge towards cinematic territory.
As in the case of 'Hey Podgy!' One Day, After School... aren't content to let a beautiful song drift into nothingness, and they pick up the pace towards the end. They very nearly pull it off, layering on the urgent vocals and brooding guitars, whilst retaining the glittering electric guitars and simple guitar-plucking that made it such a great song in the first place. However, they also bring in more of those snappy pre-fabricated beats, which are far too harsh for the song. But, look behind that insistent crunching (somehow...) and 'Final Act / Last Scene' has the makings of a heart wrenching ending.
'Sunderland Echo (pts 1& 2)' has a mid-section of acoustic faffing about that fades up and fades down for a while, before the song gets back into full swing. Presumably, this is separating 'part one' from 'part two.' If that's the case, then 'part one' is another hush-inducing track of simple, meandering guitars and tentative vocals that's designed to make the listener stop what they're doing and strain to catch every last, delicate note.
The 'part two' of 'Sunderland Echo (pts 1 & 2)' is more attention-grabbing. Driven along by a pulsing acoustic guitar, it features a wickedly sharp hook in the form of a quick tambourine flourish, accompanied by a whining bit of slide-guitar, that's guaranteed to prick the listener's interest. And things get darker and more dramatic, as One Day, After School... introduce a handful of glimmery chords that slowly bleed into one long, slow crackle. With the tambourine, slide guitar and pulsing acoustic beat still audible beneath that surface buzz, 'part two' is a complex, faultlessly put-together instrumental that edges insistently towards epic territory.
'Prolefeed' has a cleaner, clearer sound than much of One Day, After School...'s previous material, favouring acoustic guitars over their usual, crackling distortion. The major downside is that One Day, After School... keep returning to those clunky, drum-machine beats that might find a place in their more fuller-sounding songs, but are patently out of place on this acoustic-based EP. But, that aside, the majority of 'Prolefeed' is clunky, live-sounding and with more than a passing nod towards folk and country music, with a handful of quiet moments that are completely arresting - particularly the beginning of 'Final Act / Last Scene.' 'Prolefeed' is an EP for those who like rough-around-the-edges acoustic-based music.