If opening tracks on records (yes, I still call them records—get over it) are normally about setting the scene, giving the listener a taste of what they can expect, and as a by-product giving lazy journalists, such as myself, a quick hit from which they can write a review for a record they have hardly listened to and move on, Stephen Shutters doesn’t play that game. Opening with the aptly titled Bustle, he instead strings together a strangely claustrophobic, agitated intro piece, which whilst lyrically sets a scene, musically just makes you think that this could go anywhere or even everywhere. A teaser if ever there were one. Cleverly, instead of offering you a tangible snapshot, a taste of the music to follow, he instead offers you a tantalising glimpse into a strange and singular sonic world.
It is a musical world built of a heady blend of singer-songwriter narrative—post folk delicacy, sonorous and brooding dreamscapes, personal reflection and intimate soul searching. Lyrically there is something of the Beat to be found in the poignant poeticism: a mix of the profound and the profane, of social commentary and existential thoughts blended with the minutiae of the modern world. Crushed, in particular, reading like a Kerouacian stream of consciousness and, depending on how much of the writer is in the song’s narration, feeling like either notes for a new great American novel or a very intimate collection of diary entries and love letters to his own past.
And if the lyrics are intriguing, the music also follows suit. Starting with a recognisable stripped-back, slightly warped, rock template, it is what he hangs on such a musical structure that makes for a fascinating journey. For whereas most would use bombast and big guitars, drive and drumbeat to make their point, Ephemeral as the name might suggest, is built more on transient sounds and temporal musical passages. Post rock structures subsume the traditional approach, but often where you would expect the big dynamics you instead get space and atmosphere; where guitars would drive home the point, instead they chime in the distance and shimmer around the edge of the song. Bass and drums, where they even exist, do so to build just a framework or add intriguing musical motifs in their own right, and even the vocals wander through effected soundscapes adding to the dark dreamland that Ephemeral is.
When troubled young men first grab a guitar in their bedrooms and dream of diarising their lives in the form of a meaningful and artistic collection of songs, this is the album that they dream of making. And though many try, few get the balance as perfect as Stephen Shutters does here. The art is walking a path that is melancholic rather than miserable, dark-edged rather than mournful, reflective but not reactionary, self-analysing rather than self-pitying. With Ephemeral, Stephen walks that perfect line.
Purchase Ephemeral here – http://smarturl.it/ephemeralep
Also available at the following sites:
Apple Music: http://smarturl.it/ephemeralep/applemusic
Google Play: http://smarturl.it/ephemeralep/googleplay