Friday, May 5, 2017

Review of Greywind's "Afterthoughts"

I posted this review on the Sputnik Music website earlier this afternoon:

Review Summary: This album is one of the surprise treats of 2017.

1 out of 1 thought this review was well written

I had the good fortune to spend a night in Killarney a few years back. It's a lovely little place in southwestern Ireland that seems to be a must stop for most of the Irish tours. From what I saw, it's a town full of pubs geared towards tourists where they play traditional Irish music virtually every night. What it isn't, typically, is a launching pad for young musicians who want to create a career in rock music. Nevertheless, Killarney is the starting point for Greywind, a brand new two-piece brother-sister band who just released their debut album Afterthoughts to mostly rave reviews. 

The siblings in question, Paul and Steph O'Sullivan, wanted to form a band that would tour the world, but had a hard time finding like-minded band mates. This held them back for awhile, until a tragic event, the suicide of their uncle, convinced them that life was too short to delay pursuing their dream. The pair subsequently recorded a demo and posted it on the internet, and were immediately inundated with industry interest. Shortly thereafter, they signed with a management company and began working with Grammy-winning producer Jason Perry to develop the album that became Afterthoughts.

The style of music here is heavy alternative rock with powerful female vocals. Several Sputnik staff members and users have posted soundoffs about the album, and they're mostly pretty spot-on. One compared the young band to Flyleaf, which is an accurate analogy, except that I think these guys are starting out on a higher level than Flyleaf ever reached (and also, they're not an overtly Christian rock band like Flyleaf was). Another compared Steph O'Sullivan to Paramore's Hayley Williams. More on that in a minute.

The music itself is mostly created by brother Paul O'Sullivan on guitar, with an able assist on bass and drums from Mark Chapman and Adam Perry, respectively. It's heavy at some points, moody and atmospheric at others, with some pretty well-written songs for a debut album. What sets the band apart from a host of others, though, is the vocals.

For me, the two primary dimensions I rate vocalists on are power and beauty. Singers like Florence Welch of Florence + the Machine or Ann Wilson of Heart, for example, rank pretty high on the power scale, but I don't find their voices particularly beautiful. Candice Night of Blackmore's Night, on the other hand, sings with a respectable level of force, but her real strength is that her voice is just exquisitely lovely. Steph O'Sullivan is that rare kind of singer who ranks near the top of both scales. She can belt it out with the best of them, but even more importantly, she's just really, really, pleasant to listen to. She sings with the emotive style of a Hayley Williams, and while she hasn't yet developed Williams' charisma, her voice might even be prettier.

The LP's best number is the title track, which is also the one that first drew all of the internet attention. It's one of those songs that starts quietly, with an interesting acoustic guitar line and a controlled first verse, then bursts into sonic flames when it hits the chorus. I couldn't tell you exactly what it's about -- it's something of an epic fantasy involving kingdoms and shipwrecks -- but the lyrics are interesting, and contain some unusual phrases for a rock song, such as "Solace will find you," and "I left you with roses grown in hell", and even "Silence ensues". It grabbed me from the first listen, and immediately predisposed me to like the rest of the album.

Running a close second is "Stitch on My Wings". This is a mid-tempo power ballad that comes dangerously close to being one of those sickeningly perky "Wind Beneath My Wings" kind of tracks. Thankfully, the song's hook, powered by Steph's insanely appealing vox, keeps it from falling over that particular ledge, as she blasts out "Stitch on my wings, stitch on my wings/Or let me fall".

I want to take a few words here to point out that the album art for Afterthoughts is especially alluring. The front cover depicts a snow-covered forest engulfed in flames, as a single tiny figure watches from the shore of a lake. Inside, there's a booklet that contains a one-page lyric sheet for each song, and each page has its own picture, with images of oceans, trees and fire throughout. All of these pictures are from paintings by a British artist who really makes an impressive use of rich colors, Daniel Conway. Obviously if the music on the the album sucked, you probably wouldn't buy it just for the art. But given that it's a pretty strong LP anyway, Conway's art is a nice little bonus.

Afterthoughts is one of the surprise treats of 2017 so far. I don't know if Greywind will make it to the U.S. this year, but if they do, I'd definitely like to catch them. They're playing some festival dates in Germany and the U.K. this summer, though, so if you live in the vicinity, I'd encourage you to check them out. This is a promising debut album. I look forward to hearing from this band again in the future.

Rating: 3.5/5 stars