It should come as no surprise to Fresh on the Net fans, that when we were offered the chance to review We Came As Strangers upcoming album, Eyedom, due out 31st August, we jumped at it, and with gusto! Having previously had the pleasure of featuring their work on this site, we knew we were in for something special, and boy, were we on the money. In fact folks, Eyedom is nothing short of spectacular.
Having originally come together as an experimental project, We Came As Strangers quickly bore all the hallmarks of a tightly knit unit of musical master craftsmanship. Of the notion of their first getting together, guitarist Justin Sandercoe says, “We did go into it as strangers, I’d worked a bit with everyone but the rest of the band hadn’t met each other before.”
Three albums in, Justin Sandercoe, Tim Harries, Owen Thomas and Ellem are a closely established collaborative co-op, whose creative bond has been firmly cemented. Theirs is a collective musical imagination that has stretched beyond day to day horizons to a cinematic ambit, precipitating the creation of a panorama of filmic sounds.
Both keyboardist Owen Thomas, and vocalist Ellem, have worked extensively on TV and film soundtracks and one assumes that there has been a gradual, organic osmosis of these experiences and influences into the group’s aesthetic, as the album is imbued with a dramatically expansive atmosphere. Eyedom evokes cinemascape!
“We were diamond. We were. You told me you and I were the Eyedom” (Eyedom)
The title Eyedom originated from the song of the same name. The album opener is a mesmeric piece about creating a private Kingdom, visible only through the eyes of the beholder. Short in length, with minimal lyrics, it’s atmosphere is of mountainous proportions. The music has a desolate tone, with a slightly Fernandoesque Spanish feel, especially the sound of the tightly played guitar. The first minute is instrumental, broken only by Ellem’s simple echoey call (through the Fresh On The Net private portal we espy a Civil War señorita calling out atop a mountain a la Hemmingway). It isn’t until 1.40m in that the haunting “vocal-proper” begins. Subdued and pensive in style, this song sets the tone of the album’s spellbinding soundscape .
“Standing face to face, With all the stupid things I’ve done” (Stupid Things)
We are told that Eyedom takes influence from the likes of Portishead, whilst giving a nod to Fleetwood Mac, and Philip Glass, amongst others. One can hear a flicker of Mac in the opening track but it’s the next song, Stupid Things, that is most redolent of Mick Fleetwood’s trademark percussive sound. It’s a little bit Albatross, with some sweeping musical flourishes, dotted with Chinese Chopsticks keyboard playing. Blackdog bass growls at skilfully pared back guitar and soft reverbed vocals.
The stage is set, the drama is building, there is tension in the air, and with the next track, Adrenaline, all previous restraint shown by Sandercoe gets thrown out the window. Rocky, edgy, loud, there is plenty of adrenaline in the guitar playing to give weight to the name. Ellem too, throws some weight behind her vocal, giving way to a more spirited performance. Adrenaline is a timely counter-point to the quietude of the first two tracks, and if rock guitar and meaty vocals are your thing, this is your song.
Next up is the single, Still Life which Fresh On The Net has already reviewed. During that review, we made mention of the fact that the opening sounds are like the chimes of a grandfather clock, and, that Ellem’s vocal had the clear, robust duskiness of Andrea Corr. This similarity can again be heard at the start of Recess, but this time around the vocal velvet doesn’t last long, as Ellem’s voice takes on a fascinating twist, swelling with a determined, melodramatic force that could challenge the vocal powerhouse that is Florence.
“I was once again, caught out behind a static lens
Fractured and statuesque, captured in silhouette
Switching off ” (Recess)
Percussion on this album was arranged for the most part by Owen Thomas, using a fusion of electronic components and live kit recordings, in some instances taking samples of the latter and retriggering it. Recess is built from the ground up with whacking great percussive sounds; it is a master-class in perfect percussive interpretation.
In fact, this is an exemplary song on all levels — flowing vocals rise and fall over animated, jagged guitar playing. Layer upon layer of sound, builds up to an almost Middle Eastern frenzy; the music bobs and weaves, dips to a delicate hush, then sweeps up majestically and soars with the arrival of strings. The string sequences are exquisite — think Arabian nights meets Russian ballet. Fresh On The Net asked the group about the orchestration of the strings throughout the album and this is what they told us:
“The strings for the most part, were arranged by Tim and Owen. We brought in Paul Campbell, from Studio Orchestrations in Ireland, to sweeten what we had done. He orchestrated and conducted the lives players, who included Alan Mc Clure, Dawn Wall, Tammy Surginor, Joanne Byrne and Karen Porter. They were recorded by Donal O’Connor at Red Box Recording, in Belfast.”
One influence that isn’t mentioned, is one that Fresh On The Net hears in Trouble — and that is U2 — yes, we can hear it. The guitar playing on this track is simply stunning, equal to anything The Edge has ever produced (he and the JDB are our guitar heroes). Again, there is a Middle Eastern sound, whipped up and swollen with some very grandiose electronica, underpinned by some serious bassline grooves and topped off with a light smattering of percussive noises. The vocal goes with the flow — reins it in when the sound goes low, then gives it welly when the zing is on. This is a seriously bloody good song, and in our opinion, vies with Recess for star of the show.
“It’s the high coming down like rain,
It’s the lights out at the arcade,
It’s the end of the last parade,
The break away”
(High Coming Down)
Four more tracks make up the rest of the album. Madeline is a quirky balled with a floaty wonky vocal, menacing bass guitar and some serious Steve Winwood like keyboard playing. Then there’s High Coming Down, home to the most gorgeously lush piano playing, more stunning synth’n’strings, and a military style percussive sound resonant of a steam train slowly trundling down a country track. It is a very dramatic affair.
Nine is ninth (no prizes for guessing why!). An atmospheric instrumental with an American influence, it could easily be the soundtrack of a David Lynch mystery and has all the prerequisite elements — mysterious guitar, sexy slide guitar, haunting piano and trance-inducing harmonies. It’s eery, nocturnal, inquisitive, sorrowful, enchanting; a brilliantly pieced together jigsaw of sounds, the seeming simplicity of which is very beguiling.
We Came As Strangers round off Eyedom with the song Carousel the exceptional guitar playing on which is like something you’d expect to hear on an Eagles track. It has that American bluesy-rock thang going on, and then some. The song begins with some seriously funky jazzy percussion, then up pops that Winwood organ again, oh yeah. Ellem employs a lazy vocal, working in and around the beat, until the song reaches a voluminous climax with both organ and guitar going head to head, at which point she shakes her vocal fist and punches down on the lyric in true vocal heavyweight style.
Eyedom ends on a dramatic high, bringing this cinematic musical road-journey to a climatic end. It transports you from Arabic sands, to the Pacific highway, taking in a spin on the waltzers, as well as a trip on a rocket launcher, along the way. This album is an accomplished, theatrical, imaginative sound-fest, that operates outside of defined genres. A work of art well conceived of, and wonderfully crafted by finely skilled masters of their trade.
We Came As Strangers were recently voted onto Fresh on the Net’s Fresh Faves 161 by our readers, and their single, Still Life was subsequently included by Tom Robinson on his 10 August Mixtape for BBC Radio 6 Music. Watch the video for Still Life here on Fresh on the Net.
You can pre-order Eyedom on iTunes and will receive recent single Still Life as an instant download.
We Came As Strangers photography by Nick Kent.