By Stewart King
'Satori' the debut full-length from York based singer-songwriter Stewart King has a more diverse sound than most albums that are masterminded by a solo artist, with bluesy rock and roll influences occasionally making their presence felt halfway through a song that was previously just an acoustic guitar and King's voice.
'Wan Chai Gap' is an attention-grabbing choice of album-opener, as pockets of heady, dizzy strings swirl across an undercurrent of abrasive guitars. As the long, bristling riffs trail off into silence, the memory of those perfectly-placed, giddy strings may just have you hitting the 'repeat' button. However, on 'Wan Chai Gap' - and, indeed, a handful of other songs - the production is slightly off. Some of the instruments are placed at the wrong levels in the mix, especially the electric guitars, which also tend to take the rough-and-ready approach a little too far, and would benefit from a bit of studio gloss.
Production niggles also plague album-highlight 'If You're Going Through Hell, Keep Going.' King jazzes up the acoustic-based opening with knocking percussion , before bringing in the long, grating riffs for the chorus. Although they give 'If You're Going Through Hell, Keep Going' a harder-rocking rawness, that rasping edge at times borders on unpleasant, and threatens to drown out King's vocals. King does get the balance spot-on during the guitar solo, turning out a long, wailing blast of discordant noise that shows a more bluesy, rock and roll side to King. 'If You're Going Through Hell, Keep Going' starts off as a surprisingly sassy acoustic number, and builds into a rock song packed with crackling riffs and swaggering guitar solos.
In similar fashion, 'Nothing Can Grow Here' starts off as your standard, acoustic-based singer-songwriter fair, and then evolves into something far more eclectic and adventurous. Those initial, sparkling acoustic refrains are joined by a piano, a flood of backing vocals, synths and, finally, a wailing electric guitar. While the first part of the chorus does feature some smugly neat vocals, in general the combination of supporting vocals and piano gives 'Nothing Can Grow Here' a fuller, more emotionally affecting sound. Some heartstring-tugging potential is lost, as the synths mimic the general, whining sweep of a string instrument, and lack that sharp, emotionally cutting edge of synths that actually sound like real strings. If anything, those trilling synths sound a bit Euro-pop, which hardly adds to the atmosphere.
The synths on 'Runaway' also lack that sharp edge that just might have made this song tug a little harder on the heartstrings. Elsewhere, 'Runaway' relies heavily on a short, scratchy acoustic guitar line that's looped until it really begins to grate. Its potential to annoy, combined with the oddly flat synths, means that 'Runaway' isn't quite the downbeat acoustic ballad King's aching vocals suggest he was aiming for. Consequently, 'Runaway' misses the spot.
Experimental offering 'This Song Is For You' is another song that relies on a heavily-repeated piece of music, this time it's a four second-long piano strain that makes up roughly ninety percent of 'This Song Is For You.' The remaining ten percent, is restricted to a handful of chimes, a scattering of synths and cabasa. It's all expertly put together to come up with a song that clunks along in maddeningly catchy fashion. While there's no denying its sheer repetitiveness is rather irritating, this is one song that'll get fixed in your head, whether you want it there or not.
'Embodiment Of Fire' shimmies to life with throbbing bass, hushed vocals and a pattering acoustic guitar, before once again unrolling those raw, grating guitar lines and taking on a more rock and roll persona. King may not have the world's strongest voice, but he has a knack for making the most of what he has got, twisting and turning his voice around on the chorus, and giving the illusion that those vocal lines are bigger and more anthemic than they actually are. It's such a successful illusion, that 'Embodiment of Fire' may even get you singing along.
'Satori' is one of the more varied singer-songwriter albums out there. It's a nice surprise how a handful of these songs evolve into something far more complicated over the course of their running time. 'Satori' is an album for those who have had their fill of both one-man-and-his-guitar style albums and songs by rock bands, as Stewart King's work falls somewhere inbetween.