Saturday, July 17, 2010

Brick by brick

Did you know that the maker of one of the most undeservedly overlooked albums of the past five years has a new EP out?

No, probably not. American singer Ferras's minimally promoted new EP is a "live in a studio setting" thing, which means it doesn't have all the fantastic "The Remedy (You And I)"-style production from the Matrix and Gary Clark that I loved on much of Aliens & Rainbows, his 2008 debut album. It's just Ferras singing and playing the piano.

Ferras's songwriting skills have never really been doubt and his songs have withstood the stripped treatment before. Aliens & Rainbow's final track, the beautiful ballad "Take My Lips," stood out as not just an album highlight but one of the best "why aren't teenagers everywhere falling in love with and to this song?" tracks to be released recently, even though it was another live-sounding, piano accompaniment-only recording. Still, it was an open question how that style would hold up over five songs that average a length of six and a half minutes each--that sounds like a recipe for a mess of acoustic, indulgent musical noodling.

There's bad news and good news on that front. These are not condensed songs, more diary entries set to piano, but the bones are strong. If Ferras felt like turning these into "proper pop songs," it could probably be done pretty easily. It is possible to make a structured, traditional if unconventional song with pop appeal that exceeds six minutes in length. Meat Loaf's "I'd Do Anything For Love (But I Won't Do That)," Darren Hayes's "Casey," Styx's "Come Sail Away," Girls Aloud's "Untouchable"--it's not a huge list and it's more a case of "exception that proves the rule," but it could go on. Ferras, however, doesn't really even try to do that here, just unhurriedly explores his way up and down the piano while singing a topline that, though including some great lyrics and delivered beautifully, generally is devoid of hooks, or at least presented in a way to minimize them.

The result is works that are beautiful and poignant and probably important for a growing artist to experiment with, but that in their current incarnation feel more appropriate for some dramatic contemporary dance (see montage below) than at home on my hit heavy playlists. I appreciate them, but I also appreciate the fact that this is an "interim" release, a side project, and not his next proper album.

The song out of these five that comes closest to being catchy is probably "Gypsy Girl," mainly due to its plinky piano background giving the vocal melody room to breathe, though it's also probably not the biggest "achievement" here. "Wall Around My Heart" is the nominal single and, in a different, more accessible life, you could see why, though the same could also be said for "Phantom Song" or "Marshmallow Spaceship."

As it stands, if you're new to Ferras, this isn't the place to begin. The songs on Aliens & Rainbows are a near-perfect melding of diary page-style musings with mainstream-mysterious electronic production and catchy pop melodies.* However, I can never fault an artist for being generous enough to give us something in between albums and, though I can't unequivocally recommend this EP to others, I'm glad I purchased it.

Ferras's EP Interim is available on iTunes internationally here. If you missed out on his debut album, though, I highly recommend it; Aliens & Rainbows can be purchased here (physical) or on iTunes internationally here.

As with any Ferras post, I have to thank Robbie for introducing me to Aliens & Rainbows.

*Though I must admit I've long had a question about his decision to adopt certain points of view in the lyrics. Still, pressured or not, it's the narrator's prerogative, I guess.


John said...

Aliens & Rainbows was such a great album that it borders on criminal that it didn't get more attention. Thanks for bringing this EP to us, because I had no idea it existed.

Poster Girl said...

That album really deserved better. I hope with his next full album he's able to continue developing as an artist but also release something that I love as much as the first.