Album Review: Tom Baxendale – A Million Miles

By on Tuesday, 29th August 2017 at 12:00 pm
 

Tom Baxendale A Million Miles coverSince we last spoke with Sheffield singer/songwriter Tom Baxendale, he’s been hard at work on a new album, the follow up to his 2016 LP ‘In the City a Short Time Ago’. Around the release of his last LP, Baxendale talked about the homemade nature of his work and his plans to shore up his home studio for the purpose of further recording. He seems to have followed through with that ambition on ‘A Million Miles’, which features a wider sonic palette influenced by his recent listening material. Baxendale describes his music consumption of late as a “weird mix” of ’80s pop, hip-hop/neo soul, krautrock, and “lots of contemporary pop stuff my kids make me listen to—I complain, but secretly like!”

It may go against the typical indie musician’s aesthetic, but that pop sensibility hasn’t diminished the authenticity of Baxendale’s high-quality songwriting. A sense of restless anxiety pervades the musical arrangement of opening track ‘Good Money’ even before Baxendale intones its first vocal lines: “friends are hard to come by at this time of the night / it’s too early to be sleeping, it’s too late to pick a fight.” Initially tucked farther back in the arrangement, subtle synths and a light keyboard melody contrast the edgy guitar lines and lead the segue into a vivid and dramatic instrumental coda.

‘Beating’ is much more directly pop-oriented, with bouncy synths and handclap rhythms behind Baxendale’s square lyrical couplets. But a low instrumental drone underscores the darker tone of his vocal lines, especially in the variable chorus, “but the heart does what it pleases, taunts and it teases, and one day just stops beating”, and a slight vulnerability sneaks into his tone as the song draws to an end.

A haunting violin descant floats behind an otherwise heavily rhythmic instrumental arrangement in ‘Trick of the Light’. Despite the more polished instrumental sounds, Baxendale has wisely left his vocals largely alone, and the depth of his lower register blends well with the musical backing. In the vein of many great songwriters including Springsteen and Dylan, Baxendale isn’t a strong technical singer, but his tone is pleasant and true to the emotional content of his songs.

Hazy, reverberant synths sneak into the instrumental repertoire in ‘Disappear Again’, conveying the sense of emotional limbo in the lyrics “you promised this was the last time / and then you disappear again for a while”. Likewise, a palette of weirdly experimental sounds channel a tangible sense of aimlessness in ‘Satellite.’ Baxendale’s singing voice isn’t as natural in these synthetic contexts as it is in his previous, more acoustic style, but his lyrics are nonetheless evocative: “white lies and lullabies / the words you use to sleep at night / echo round the corners of your mind”. Final track ‘Cruel Words’ is, on its surface, a smooth, bright love ballad, but its sharp-tongued lyrics reveal an ironic twist in the accusatory vocal lines “your lipstick smile spews bitter bile / and angers seems to seep through every pore”.

Standout track and album centerpiece ‘Worlds Apart’ is much more expansive and energetic, composed on the synthesis of the dark, edgy ’80s pop sounds mentioned above. A driving rhythm propels the vocal melody through the lines “if I seem a million miles away / it’s these dreams that hit me in the day / oh, even when I’m wide awake / I’m worlds apart” before an extended, but admirably restrained, instrumental bridge. “If I dance / a little out of time,” Baxendale lyrically elucidates, “at a glance / you’ll see it’s just that I’m / moving to the melody inside my head”.

Coming in at a brief seven tracks, ‘A Million Miles’ seems a bit truncated on the surface, but its individual songs represent a renewed sense of exploration for this fully independent artist. Baxendale is clearly pushing the limits of what he can do with only one set of hands in the confines of a home studio, and as a result, this does sound a bit more tentative and less polished than the last album. However, the wry sincerity of Baxendale’s singing is still very much a strength. He hasn’t lost his knack for a witty lyric, nor his innate sense of melody in the new cacophony of sound.

7.5/10

Tom Baxendale’s second solo album ‘A Million Miles’ is due for release on the 4th of September. TGTF’s coverage of Baxendale’s solo work can be found through here. You can read about his work with Sheffield art rock band The Payroll Union right back here.

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There Goes The Fear is where we tell you about the latest music, gigs, and tours we love and think you should too.

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TGTF is edited by Mary Chang, who is based in Washington, DC. She is joined by writers in England, America and Ireland. It began as a UK music blog by Phil Singer in 2005.

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