Music Review: Be Bold – Rosie Bans

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EP on release
Available as a free download from iTunes, Bandcamp, streaming on Spotify, or direct from Rosie Bans: http://www.rosiebans.com/

Reviewed by Guy Sangster Adams

How coy that old phrase, ‘to tinkle the ivories’, sounds and how curiously uninvolved with their instrument it makes the player sound, inapposite to the extreme when it comes to the piano pop-punk music of singer-songwriter, Rosie Bans. Live was my first introduction and I was immediately bowled over by the passion, erudition, and power of her words and singing, music and playing, transfixed by the intimate interconnectedness of her and her piano. The keys seemingly rising to meet her touch, allowing her to seamlessly juxtapose and mix supposedly contradictory musical styles, to follow her through sonic experimentation, to allow her to pause in a moment of silence, but never to lose the audience’s captivation.

Coyness equally has no quarter, as its title attests, on her fourth EP, Be Bold. Each of the four tracks is a call to arms to not run scared and to not run out of hope. However much of the former and however little of the latter one might feel. Each of the four tracks also captivates me in just the same way as that first live show did. In my mind’s eye the surfable waves along the keyboard that her songs create achieve such a tidal surge that the keys break free from their bed, leave the speakers, and wrap themselves around me. Sometimes they are pale ivory fingers caressing, sometimes slapping, sometimes they are teeth grabbing me by the scruff of the neck, and occasionally they draw blood. For coyness has no quarter on Be Bold either in theme or medium.

Immediately reinforced by the EP’s opener, Arguments, which opens with the raw punchy power of Stooges-esque electric guitar, the stabbing chords reappearing throughout the track, mixed with jabbed keys, counterpoised with soft, dinner jazz piano, which adroitly highlight Bans’ two distinct vocal styles in the track, the two sides to an argument, the calm, moral high ground of one lighting the blue touch paper of the rasped other: “well I’m not tired, and I want to cry!”. Arguments (as is the EP as a whole), is a wonderful showcase for Bans’ bold and dramatic experimentation with fusing a variety of styles and syncopation in each of her songs. That these experiments prove so successful compound the fact that Be Bold is also a wonderful showcase for Bans’ supreme talent.

Rosie Bans photographed by Jamie Drew

Rosie Bans photographed by Jamie Drew

Arguments can end in repercussions and Arguments ends in a welter of feedback, but into that plays a beautiful melodious refrain. Hopefully a moment of calm after the storm, but also perhaps a whisper of Some Candy Talking of Bans’ Glaswegian musical forbears, The Jesus and Mary Chain. She was born in the city to a Scottish mother and Scottish/Indian father and was encouraged in music from an early age. She has, she says, been guided by “an army of strong female figures […] throughout her teenage and young adult life”, and specifically cites Stevie Nicks and Gloria Gaynor as having influenced her vocally, and Imogen Heap, Amanda Palmer, and Tori Amos as her song-writing influences.

Having cast off into that swirl of influences, it’s beyond temptation to say that the EP’s second track, Make Believe, has a wonderful feel of Carole King about it, and intertwined echoes of Billy Joel’s New York State of Mind and Alicia Keyes’ (/Jay Z’s) Empire State of Mind. But Make Believe is pure and simple – and clever and fabulous come to that – Rosie Bans! In that the phenomenally catchy, whistle all through the working day, tune both belies the lyrics and also characterises the façade they portray in relating a relationship that may look perfect on the surface, but is bereft below it: “So go on, paint me a picture, tell me a story, make believe, make believe, that there’s a you and me”. State of the union state of mind.

The phenomenally affecting third track, Bold Light, projects the childhood nursery rhyme fear of losing one’s way home into the terrifying reality of losing one’s sense of home, of having that sense beaten and broken out of one. Rhythmically, especially the chorus, the song has a feel of playground skipping chant, and there is a childlike facet musically, as though parts are played on a toy piano, which heighten the lyrical power – as does the soft vulnerability of Bans’ singing – which is far removed from the games of children. “I took as much as I could take,” sings Bans, and later, “you pushed too hard on my heart”. The ‘games’, such as they are lyrically expressed, are far more akin to Master and Servant, and fittingly in both the song’s rhythm and the other musical component of extraterrestrial chimes there are intriguing echoes of Depeche Mode.

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Those extraterrestrial chimes serve the song wonderfully well, aiding and abetting its effectiveness and affectivity, highlighting both the narrator’s feeling of being completely adrift from the world and also her celestial entreaty to be shown a direction home.

Home is also at the heart of the closing track on Be Bold, Westbound Ghosts. But where Bold Light is journeying in search of a home, Westbound Ghosts is the clearer emotional understanding of what home means to one that one often gains whilst travelling. Not least whilst travelling on trains (and not least whilst travelling on trains between London and Scotland, or vice versa), as one’s thoughts unfold across the passing landscapes and then flood back to one as inspiration, answers, new plans, or just a sense of calm or a refreshed sense of purpose. But being Bans there is a wonderful Noirish twist to this tale, in that the song’s narrator’s sense of home is only fixed as long as she is on the fixed railway lines of the East Coast… it might all change if she went back to the West Coast, or if she paid heed to the other female voice in the song – be that mother, sister, friend, or, indeed, another side of herself.

One thing about being bold is that once one begins one shouldn’t falter, and the wonderful thing about Be Bold is that it never falters – each of its four tracks is exceptional. I don’t know whether it takes boldness to download a free download of such excellent songs, but if it does then I urge you to be bold, because you will be well and truly bowled over by Be Bold.

ROSIE BANS LIVE DATES:

FAMOUS TIMES LIVE

ROSIE BANS, MIKE NISBET (click here to read P-TCP’s review of Mike Nisbet’s album, Vagrant), and GUY SANGSTER ADAMS will all be performing at Famous Times Live on 4th May 2014.
For more information: https://www.facebook.com/famoustimeslive?ref=br_tf

WORKING OUT OF TOWN TOUR

ROSIE BANS alongside MIKE NISBET and ANNA MacDONALD will be playing live across the UK during May and June 2014 on their Working out of Town tour.
For more information: http://www.rosiebans.com/

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