By Daniel Clark
Daniel Clark's British Summertime EP - aptly titled, given the warmth, breeziness, and overarching congeniality of its contents - is oddly brief: it plays for just less than twelve minutes, and the material is divided more or less evenly across three songs, each slightly under four minutes. The collective material is a little thin on the ground: one more three or four minute track would have fleshed the whole out to a more consummate creation. I understand, though: studio time doesn't come cheap, readers.
Clark has accrued a fuller entourage since last I saw him (at which point he was accompanied by one guitarist, Ryan Barry, who is still filling that role, as well as adding the keys on track one, Broken Stones): the agile and accomplished percussion playing is Luke Howell's; the backing vocals laid supine across tracks two and three are those of Amy Ladds; and the competent but somewhat unimaginative bass lines are performed by someone who remains anonymous, for whatever reason.
Track one, Broken Stones, is Clark's finest; it even has what my mother misidentified as 'jazzy' qualities.
When she shared this thought with me, I spent an appropriate amount of time correcting her as follows:
'My dear Madam, whilst I must concede that there is a modicum of truth in what you say, for there are elements of this song that are common to the jazz genre, one would do well to remember that, simply because two objects share one or two minor qualities, this does not mean that they belong to the same category, nor are they necessarily related on anything more than the most superficial level. What you identified correctly (though you were mistaken in your appellation of these things) was the lightness of the percussion (like the use of brushes by jazz drummers) and the presence of harmonic intervals of sixths and ninths in the chords played by the guitar. These things, indeed, are common in jazz, but it would be a flippant and inaccurate assessment to conclude that this song exists in the jazz idiom, or that jazz's parameters can stretch far enough to include this song in its canon (though that genre's parameters do stretch a great deal farther than many). Nay, mamma, what currently graces our ears is a song firmly rooted in the pop genre; but I would like to add the following addendum to my assessment: the jazz-like elements you identified do raise this song up to that elusive and unfortunately all too sparsely populated plateau: that of Interesting Pop.'
At this, my mother smiled politely, and remained silent. I can only assume she was embarrassed about how wrong she had been.
Incidentally, in this discourse I happened to cover most of what I thought and liked about this song, but there is a little more to comment on: Clark's voice and lyrics shine throughout. His voice is, in fact, marvellous across the entirety of this recording, and is always stellar in live performance, too. It is his distinctive characteristic -- that quality that delineates the division between him and his more mediocre peers. His lyrics here -- the only ones of his that deal with the political - are memorable ('Extra! Extra! Read all about it!' - or do I remember that from somewhere else?) and the melody is simple but enjoyable.
Track two, Nineteen Degrees, begins with a technically accomplished guitar riff, which flitters like a butterfly, and opens like a flower (ideal similes, I think, given the spirit of this most summery of songs) whose petals reveal a whole musical idyll: a gentle, but not lethargic tempo; a bouncy rhythm; a buoyant mood; joyous lyrics on the simple pleasures of existence; and an overused chord sequence (although it has an interesting note or two, tucked away in its harmony).
This song's strength resides in its lyrics, its vocal delivery, and its infectious and charming character, as did the last. Its chorus, with Amy Ladds's 'ooh's and 'ah's risks tipping over the edge of a precipice into the dreaded bottomless pit we have come to know as Cheese; but it stays, not altogether comfortably, on the cusp of this most disagreeable fate, in relative safety. Ryan Barry's electric guitar solo is well-played, but is unimaginative, and has the appearance of having been phoned in.
The end of the song fades out gradually, as the line, 'I'm just having one of those days where the big black clouds fade away,' is repeated by Clark and Ladds in simple but elegant harmony. I see what you did there, Daniel: I admire and appreciate this exploitation of the duality of the meaning of the word 'fading' immeasurably.
The third and final track, Sunshine Eyes, is surprising: it is not an especially seasonally appropriate end to this EP, so almost-aptly titled - as opposed to what I led you to believe in my opening sentence. - I wanted my review to have a plot twist. I apologise. - The inexorable jubilation of the first two tracks seems to abruptly diffuse into the air and leave the last song dreary and sluggish. It is like one of those summer days, on which said day's activities have been so full, that the night, by contrast, appears long, interminable, and dull.
I hasten to add, however, that the song is touchingly heartfelt, and Ladds's additional vocals are beautiful - which is appropriate, as the subject matter centres around beauty. Moreover, her voice, in harmony with Clark's (which I feel I have already commended sufficiently) does create a very delicate ending to this EP. It is really very well crafted, but the nagging problem of the incongruity, between it and its antecedents, remains.
Overall, a fine EP: there is the odd flaw in its craftsmanship, but the structure is solid and the embellishments enarch the whole beautifully at times. It is a little too short to leave its listeners truly sated, but that is what the repeat button is for, I suppose. Now, Listen!
The EP can be streamed/downloaded at danielclarkmusic.bandcamp.com