Album Review: Knightstown – Knightstown

By on Tuesday, 18th September 2018 at 12:00 pm
 

Knightstown album coverThe path to creation is often as important as the end product itself. In the case of Knightstown’s debut album, the songs that made it on to the record were part of an arduous 3-year songwriting process for Michael Aston. Classically trained at Oxford and the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland in Glasgow, ‘Knightstown’ represents Aston’s most ambitious effort to date as an indie electronic artist since completing his studies. It follows EP ‘Keep’, which was unveiled in the first quarter of 2018. Interestingly, although violin was the first instrument he picked up as a child, Aston’s primary instrument of choice is keyboards. This fact has already led to some inevitable but favourable comparisons to established acts like South London producer Sampha and the Mercury Prize-winning James Blake, comparisons Aston himself has welcomed.

The album smartly begins in familiar territory, with previously released single ‘First Cry’. In this track that’s just shy of 5 minutes in length, there’s plenty of time for Aston to set the tone for the rest of the record. With ‘First Cry’, he’s created a dreamy atmosphere, with his light-as-air falsetto, melodic instrumentation that never overpowers, and a compelling mechanical beat. This lovely, gentle dreaminess continues on ‘Moon’ and ‘Two Appear’, the latter of which closes the album with an additional soulful edge.

For those looking for something a bit more lively, ‘Charlatan’ is a standout, Aston upping the tempo with a staccatoing background synth melody and crunchy beats. On the super catchy, programmed beat-driven ‘Bitter End’, Aston sings, “save your tears for a stormy night”. Whether you choose to bop your head or golf-clap your hands to the rhythm, it’s definitely an earworm. Speaking of handclaps, there’s some in another previously released single, ‘Catcher’. Its cheerful tempo makes it feel like an electronic soft-shoe.

To let us know he hasn’t forgotten his classical roots, Aston has utilised lush instrumentation on a few tracks here to make us feel like we’re in the presence of an orchestra. Remembering that he’s a solo artist, this is quite the feat. On ‘Eyes Open Wide’, Aston’s voice bounces in the verses, then soars with the uplifting nuances of the arrangement. The frenetic synth notes on another album standout, ‘Come Home to Me’, take us on a ride into space, up high into the heavens. The song’s strings, however, remind us of the tune’s humanity, our debt to Aston’s musical training and of the ability of instrumentals to elicit emotion.

Some songs on Knightstown’s debut album demonstrate Aston’s ability to write gentle, atmospheric electronic dream pop. Others suggest his willingness to go in a dancier, more pop-orientated direction. Which way he chooses to go from here, we’ll definitely be listening.

8/10

Self-titled debut album ‘Knightstown’ is out now on FatCat Records. I interviewed Michael Aston at The Great Escape 2018 in Brighton in May; check out the interview from this link. All our past coverage on TGTF on his solo project Knightstown is through here.

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