Piano driven music is having somewhat of a heyday, arguably pioneered by his highness James Blake (all hail). It was Mr Blake who most recently brought out the vast versatility of the piano, layering it with disconcerting synths and his characteristic arresting vocals. Since he released his self-titled debut album, he gained the status of influencer when artists like SOHN and Asegir began experimenting with the most rich and flexible instrument available, the black and white keys. Local Native’s frontman Kelcey Ayer is now throwing his hat in the ring with a new album, “Tasha Sits Close To The Piano” which is set to be released in the UK on the 22nd of September.
Ayer follows in the vein of Blake by creating an album whose encompassing thread is raw piano. Like Blake, he also plays around with dramatic synths and dissonant harmonies, creating a sound that undulates like the theme of the album, romantic relationships. What distinguishes Ayer as a songwriter is his ability to speak about not just the negative aspects of love, broken hearts and failing relationships, but also the positives. He writes about what it’s like to actually be in love. Of course, the experience is not always positive, and he acknowledges that by touching on issues of dependence, insecurity and the expectations associated with being in a committed relationship.
It is indeed rare to find songs about being in love that don’t fall into a pit of clichés because of how overdone the subject is. Since the invention of music we’ve used it to express what it feels like to love and be loved. However, the rarity is finding a realistic and honest portrayal that taps into the darker sides of romantic relationships. All couples go through uncertainty and have strange thoughts about each other – things that are scarcely touched on in today’s mainstream. It’s all very well writing about attraction and fondness, but what about the anxiety of love, the worries of knowing that there is one person in the world that has the ability to break you so dramatically.
Herein lies the beauty of “Tasha Sits Close To The Piano”. In Jaws Of Love, the first single to be released from the album, Ayer sings: “In the jaws of love/ Hold me tighter/ In the jaws of love/ Tear me apart.” His soulful yet ethereal vocals croon lyrics that describe the “surrender” involved in letting yourself love someone. They have the ability to tear you apart, yet you must trust them not to. The production on this track is as interesting as the lyrics. It begins simply, with solo piano and vocals magnified by cathedral-level reverb. As synths begin to seep in, a driving beat appears and the song builds to an impressive climax. The cacophony mirrors the disordered thoughts of the narrator, who seems to be saying he wants love as well as destruction.
Although the melancholic tone set by the single doesn’t relent, this isn’t your typical weepy singer-songwriter record. “Hawaiian License Plates” bubbles with energy, with expectant repetitive piano chords and drum track. There are hints of Stranger Things synths and plenty of electronic dabbling, things HRH Blake would no doubt tip his hat at.
“Microwaves” similarly shows off Ayer and his production team’s experimental chops. It’s the first real exposition of Ayer’s pianistic skill and has an arrangement that is beautiful in its simplicity. His voice gleams and carries the track through distortion, 80s synths and a tinny drum beat.
“Everything” is the album’s crown jewel.”If we’re all gonna die / Then it doesn’t mean anything.” The idea that love is powerless in the face of death is mirrored by haunting backing vocals, cutting synths and an end so abrupt it sounds accidental. Ayer is asking what life’s tumult amounts to if it will all just come to a random and sudden end. Each element of the production fits just so in this beautiful song, despite the apparent discordance. The unfettered saxophone is the icing on the cake, sounding like Lisa Simpson baying at the moon through her sax from an alleyway.
It’s all very well comparing Ayer with James Blake, James Vincent McMorrow, or frankly any other artists named James or not named James. But in reality he is distinct from all of them, and even from Local Natives themselves. He has propelled himself right out onto a limb here, with an album that could easily have fallen into the same troupes played out by many other songwriters before him. Crucially, his vast creativity has been revealed in this album and I hope it continues to be revealed in many albums to come.
Hats off lad,
The album “Tasha Sits Close To The Piano” is set to be released in the US on 22nd September and in the UK on 3rd November.
[Picture Source: http://diymag.com/2017/07/21/local-natives-kelcey-ayer-jaws-of-love-album-tasha-sits-close-to-the-piano]