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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.

 

Interview: Tom Baxendale (Part 2)

 
By on Thursday, 3rd November 2016 at 11:00 am
 

If you missed part 1 of our interview with Sheffield singer/songwriter Tom Baxendale about his debut solo album ‘In the City a Short Time Ago’, you can catch up on it right back here.

Though the album was recorded in fairly short order, the individual songs on ‘In the City a Short Time Ago’ evolved over a much longer period of time. “Some of them are really new, or were at the time they were recorded, and some of them are really old.” Rather sheepishly, Baxendale admits, “I’ve just got millions and billions of songs that I need to record that are kind of stockpiled. I used to write songs in bunches, like with an album in mind, and I’d have them sort of lined up. At any given time I’ve got about six of those. But this [album is] the first time I’ve ever just kind of ignored that mindset and picked songs across the different kind of ideas that I’ve got. I picked them [based on] how they were going to work together, so there are kind of themes [on this album].”

The album’s first electric guitar-based single ‘All My Nightmares’ is one of those older tracks that began its life with Baxendale’s old London-based band, the Rainy Day Club. “[We had] a double bass player, and a ukulele player, and a fiddle player and I was playing acoustic. You can imagine that that’s quite a different sound.” But ‘In the City a Short Time Ago’ has its folkier moments as well, including the simple-yet-heartfelt ballad ‘All I Ask’, which surely carries over some influence from Baxendale’s earlier venture.

Recording the songs alone, part-by-part, presented a unique challenge for Baxendale, but playing them live turned out to be somewhat easier. Baxendale performed an album launch show in Sheffield on the 30th of September, with his friends from The Payroll Union stepping into the role of his backing band. “We’re so used to playing with each other, [and] I think everyone’s enjoying it. It’s quite a fun way round of doing things, actually, that the music already exists. It’s not like they’re just learning it and playing it exactly as I did, but they’ve got those kind of reference points to get their head round what the song is meant to be, do you know what I mean? Whereas with Payroll, we always develop that together and spend a lot of time doing that. This is a completely different process.”

Baxendale has lined up a handful of local gigs in Sheffield to support ‘In the City a Short Time Ago’, but he hasn’t yet made plans to play shows any farther from home. “I’d quite like to, I’ve kind of half-heartedly put some feelers out, but not really got anywhere.” He cites the difficulty of being away from his family and his graphic design job as the main obstacle. “Say like, just a week-long tour, you have to sort of cash in all your brownie points to go away for a week. It’s got to be worth it, there’s got to be a reason to do it. It’s not like [we] can go and do these really cool, high-profile gigs, because we’re not a high-profile band, outside Sheffield. Or even in Sheffield, but definitely not outside Sheffield. We just kind of thought, “what’s the point?” Which is really defeatist, but I don’t know.”

Beyond the few gigs scheduled for this autumn, Baxendale looks forward to more solo recording. “I’m really, really dying to start recording again, and I actually might be buying better equipment. I’ve been investing in some cool things, like, to make my recording sound better and be easier and more fun. I’m really dying to start using all this nice, fancy, expensive equipment that I’ve bought and seeing whether I can actually make it sound good. I think I’ll do it on my own again, just because I really like that process. DIY writing is really cool. I mean, I would be quite happy if like a big record label came and gave me loads of money to make music, but that doesn’t really happen, because of the state of the music industry or whatever. But the flip side of that is, you can actually do all this stuff on your own, you can make a half decent album in your own house, and put it out for very little cost, which you wouldn’t have been able to do in the ’60s or ’70s or whatever, so you might as well make the most of it.”

Tom Baxendale’s decidedly better than “half-decent” album ‘In the City a Short Time Ago’ is available on Spotify, iTunes, and on his Bandcamp page. If you missed our earlier coverage of ‘In the City a Short Time Ago’, you can read it right back here.

 

Interview: Tom Baxendale (Part 1)

 
By on Wednesday, 2nd November 2016 at 11:00 am
 

If you’ve been following TGTF regularly this autumn, you might already have read about Sheffield’s Tom Baxendale and his new album ‘In the City a Short Time Ago’. Released at the end of September on independent label Backwater Collective, the album is Baxendale’s solo debut, and like most fully independent music ventures, it was a true labour of love for the journeyman singer/songwriter. Completely self-recorded and produced in Baxendale’s home, ‘In the City a Short Time Ago’ is a prime example of how high-quality musicianship can blossom outside the restrictions of typical music industry channels.

I chatted with Baxendale via Skype at the end of September, around the album release, and the usual challenge of arranging an interview across oceans and time zones was complicated somewhat by Baxendale’s day job as a graphic designer for a publishing company. I caught him still sat at his desk at the end of his work day, though this turned out to be perhaps not as inconvenient for him as I initially imagined. “I work from home,” he revealed, describing a situation which both pays the bills and allows him some flexibility for making music. “It’s a good set-up. I can’t complain.”

Aside from work and family activities, Baxendale also records his music at home, and he talked about the retro sound quality of ‘In the City a Short Time Ago’ as a direct product of that recording environment. “If I could, I would make something that’s more contemporary sounding, really. But it’s all kind of homemade, and I was working within my significant limitations, and that’s kind of how it ended up sounding. I made it on Garage Band on my laptop, just in my house, wherever I could find space that there weren’t children running around or people trying to do things. And I haven’t got very much good equipment for recording or anything like that, I just kind of cobbled it all together and hoped for the best.”

In fact, Baxendale didn’t even start recording with the intention of making an album. “I started this album just for fun. I had a spare day, [when] my wife was off somewhere with the kids for the day or something, which doesn’t happen very often, that I’m just sort of sitting round the house with nothing to do. I recorded ‘Red Rag’, the second song on the album, and I thought ‘that’ll do for a demo, that’s not a bad demo’ sort of thing. And then I listened to it more, and I thought, ‘well, actually, I don’t know if I need it to be any better than that.’ And I just carried on recording from there. A couple of songs later, it was kind of obvious that I was making an album, but I didn’t really mean to at first.”

To counteract the “homemade” quality of the album’s production, Baxendale tried to emphasise the strength of the songs themselves. “I think that if the songs are good and you’re just trying to serve the songs with the arrangement, I think that you can get away with quite a lot. The average listener doesn’t really listen with those sort of ears, like an audiophile’s ears. I think most people just listen to whether the songs are good and whether it’s working or not. That’s where I put all the work in, whereas I think if you spend money going into a studio, unless you’ve got quite a bit to spend and you can spend a bit of time on it, the priority just becomes kind of capturing the song professionally, rather than actually exploring the ideas. That’s what I like about this sort of home production, you can spend as long as you like on it, and I think it works.”

I mention the lyrical strength of the songs on ‘In the City a Short Time Ago’, and ask Baxendale if this is what he means about “serving the songs”. “Yeah, definitely,” he says. “I think [the lyrics] are important. But I don’t think they always have to be the most important thing. I don’t know, it really depends on the song. I think it’s legitimate that sometimes the lyrics are just a kind of a passenger in the song. Probably my favourite song on the album, the one I’m most happy with, is the penultimate song, ‘An Old Hand’. I would say that applies to that, to me that song’s all about the sound and the chord progression and the melody.”

Baxendale played all the instrumental parts on the album — guitar, drums, bass and keys — himself, as well as singing the vocal tracks, which tested his skill and extended the recording process considerably. “I’m not a drummer at all,” he confesses, “but I can sort of play a little bit. Just to get a useable drum part would [take] like, 2 hours, whereas a proper drummer would just do it. And I don’t really play the keys very well, so again, all the parts for that were like, same thing. So, yeah, that meant it dragged out.” He was able to complete the recording process in about five months’ time, from August to December 2015, with the album release finally happening this September. “It takes a long time to go from having finished something to actually releasing it.”

Stay tuned to TGTF for part 2 of our interview with Tom Baxendale, which will post tomorrow. In the meantime, you can check out our past coverage of ‘In the City a Short Time Ago’ right through here.

 

Album Review: Tom Baxendale – In the City a Short Time Ago

 
By on Thursday, 13th October 2016 at 12:00 pm
 

Tom Baxendale album artOnce upon a time, journeyman singer/songwriter Tom Baxendale‘s craft called him to leave his native Sheffield to seek fame and fortune in London. Though bitter experience eventually led him to return home, his tale has since taken a few unexpected twists. If you’re an astute TGTF reader, you might have caught a quick mention of him in our coverage of Sheffield art rock band The Payroll Union back in 2015. Once The Payroll Union finished work on their second LP ‘Paris of America’, Baxendale turned his attention back to his solo work, which has now culminated in a stylistically different but remarkably refined album of his own.

Cinematically titled ‘In the City a Short Time Ago’, Baxendale’s debut solo album is a finely tuned blend of lo-fi psychedelic pop and acoustic alt-folk. Many of the songs were written during his time in London, but they were performed and recorded more recently in his home studio in Sheffield. It’s worth mentioning that the album was a complete DIY effort, with Baxendale himself providing all of the instrumental and vocal parts, because the end result is a surprisingly polished and cohesive recording.

‘In the City a Short Time Ago’ is neatly bookended by song titles related to dreams, which are presumably what prompted Tom Baxendale’s travels to London and back again. Uptempo blues rocker ‘All My Nightmares’, which we originally featured as the album’s first single back in July, starts the proceedings off on an energetic, though perhaps not particularly optimistic note, establishing a consistently shadowy overall tone. The mood shifts subtly but certainly over the course of the 10 song tracklist to the enigmatic stream-of-consciousness of closing track ‘Every Dream’, where a minor change to the final refrain reflects a deeper conflict embedded in the verses.

In between, Baxendale demonstrates stylistic versatility and a solid knack for writing a clever lyric. Most of the songs on the album are conspicuously simple in their structure, but rather than coming across as square or trite, they instead seem deliberately concise and focused. Thematically, they deal with the dark and difficult aspects of interpersonal relationships, and Baxendale slowly reveals several different emotional angles, by turns sharply sharply cynical, wistfully melancholic and tenderly pleading. Similarly, Baxendale’s singing voice doesn’t immediately stand out as special, but it makes a strong impression on introspective tracks like ‘Everything I Ever Said’, where his slight throatiness and mildly strained high notes convey a somewhat disarming sense of fragility.

Other standout moments on the album include the jangling guitars of ‘Red Rag’, the straightforward folk rock ballad ‘All I Ask’, and the raw, gritty cynicism of ‘Straight Face’. ‘All I Ask’ in particular is a striking juxtaposition of superficial musical simplicity and poignant lyrical subtlety in lines like “I will not ask you to be grateful / that I’ve wiped the slate clean / all I ask is that when you return / you don’t tell me where you’ve been”. The song reminded me very strongly of Jake Bugg‘s more pensive and vulnerable moments, especially ‘A Song About Love’ from 2013 album ‘Shangri-La’, which I singled out as “displaying a deftly written tenderness in its lyrics and a remarkably effective vocal technique”. The same can be said of ‘All I Ask’, whose undeniably memorable chorus melody is delivered in a similarly evocative vocal performance from Tom Baxendale. The live performance in the video below is an even further stripped back version of what appears on the album.

[youtube]https://youtu.be/8z_cdnjxwts[/youtube]

Baxendale’s travails in London might not have led to commercial music success, but they did clearly allow him to hone his songwriting skills. The songs on ‘In the City a Short Time Ago’ demonstrate a musical sensitivity and emotional depth that grows from experience. Stylistically, the retro Seventies’ vibe and minimal production of these songs comes as a welcome breath of fresh air among the smog of many modern studio recordings, and I could easily hear them fitting into the format of BBC Radio 6 Music, should that erstwhile institution be interested in offering Tom Baxendale a happily ever after.

8/10

Tom Baxendale’s excellent new album ‘In the City a Short Time Ago’ is out now on Sheffield indie label Backwater Collective. Click the highlighted links to find TGTF’s previous coverage of Tom Baxendale and The Payroll Union, respectively. If you happen to find yourself in Sheffield this autumn, you can catch Baxendale live at the following venues.

Saturday 29th October 2016 – Sheffield Hybrid Studios
Friday 4th November 2016 – Sheffield Maida Vale
Friday 11th November 2016 – Sheffield Shakespeare’s

 

In the Post #154: The Payroll Union guitarist Tom Baxendale introduces new solo album with lead track ‘All My Nightmares’

 
By on Thursday, 7th July 2016 at 12:00 pm
 

If you’re a regular TGTF reader, you might recall that we featured Sheffield-based alt-rock band The Payroll Union last summer, when they released their captivating second album ‘Paris of America’. With that project now complete, The Payroll Union’s Pete David recently contacted TGTF about a new project being undertaken by the band’s independent record label Backwater Collective. Having already released three albums, two for The Payroll Union itself, the label is now preparing to release its fourth LP, in the form of a new solo record from Payroll Union guitarist Tom Baxendale titled ‘In the City a Short Time Ago’.

Talking of his own solo work, Baxendale describes himself as “a prolific songwriter who takes elements of country, folk, new wave, rockabilly, pop . . . you name it, to create a distinctive sound of his own.” Certainly, his work with the Payroll Union would have provided a unique experience, both in terms of musical arrangement and songwriting, but Baxendale has taken a more mainstream tack for his album’s first single ‘All My Nightmares’. The song’s story line deals with a broken romance from the point of view of a protagonist who just can’t quite tear himself away. Musically, it has a rather surprising and unapologetically catchy, lo-fi, retro Seventies’ sort of sound.

According to the press release for ‘In the City a Short Time Ago’, the new album is “packed with narrative tales that reveal an unsettling unconscious desire, with murderous pacts, love trysts, familial conflict, and, at the heart of it, a deepening sense of loss in love.” We can’t speak to all that just yet, but we can definitely hear the seeds of it in ‘All My Nightmares’. We’ll look forward to the full album release in September to find out whether or not Baxendale harvests his new song’s full potential.

7.5/10

Tom Baxendale’s new solo album ‘In the City a Short Time Ago’ is due out in September via Backwater Collective.

[youtube]https://youtu.be/ztYM2KUasDo[/youtube]

 
 
 

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