Written by Liam Dickson @ FEAST
I’ve never reviewed a release, never mind one that isn’t even out yet; but why the hell not if this is the starting point. Return to the Sun caught my eye at a gig at Electric Circus in Edinburgh, myself and front man Stephen McAfferty getting talking online; a few emails later, here we are! The ‘ElevenFiftySeven’ EP, due for release in December, was recorded at The Depot studios tucked away in the deepest reaches of unchartered Granton with the go-to-guy for production in the capital Mark Morrow, five tracks in total. The cover art, designed by bassist Sean Ford, appears to depict some kind of off-kilter granite vortex sucking you into the underworld – the calming blue backdrop and rounded edges offer a levity making it not too jarring an image and suits the music it graphically represents; heavy but alluring. The circular design also no doubt alludes to what is implied in the title… ElevenFiftySeven. Just numbers, right? Wrong! We’ve all seen it on the news before, some crackpot claiming ‘the end of days is nigh’, but when scientists concoct a ‘doomsday clock’ to represent how close we are to, well, doomsday; that’s a pretty frightening thought! If midnight is curtain call, we’re just three minutes away within the timescale of humanity, hence ‘ElevenFiftySeven’… Weren’t expecting that from an EP were you?! The fictional female subject offers us insight into the drug-induced haze the people have adopted to blot out the inevitable in their version of reality (sounds an awful lot like ours too). However, this isn’t a macabre affair, more an inspirational call to arms – shake off your demons, live the life you dreamt of, proclaim your love from the mountaintops! We’ve a limited time in this world so don’t go wasting it – I’d say that is about as damn uplifting a subject matter you could possibly choose.
Right, here we go; no long drawn out introductions here, RTTS are off like a shot with this two minute exercise in no-nonsense riffage, ‘Static’. All instruments are played to full capacity for no longer than ten seconds before giving way to a bassline crawling through the sludge and some seriously cool lyrics, each line broke up with a harsh DA-DA-DA-DA rip on the guitar. “My head is full of static, like a broken TV” goes the chorus; and the verses tell of spiders in his bed, his “anxiety keeps them well fed”; this is the first of many examples throughout the EP where the lyrics written don’t seem to fit squarely into the rhythm of the vocal melody line, but somehow vocalist Stephen finds a way, displaying an aptitude for making the words just flow with unconventional emphasis that makes for a far more interesting listen than if he wrote some boring old nice-and-neat rhyming couplets. He knows what he wants to say, and he knows how he’s going to say it.
Riff verse chorus, riff verse chorus – that’s all there is to this song and that’s all we need; the second chorus really ramps it up with some ‘woo woos’ as catchy as a fish hook. It sounds like a whole room full of people are singing along but I’ll bet it’s down to the production wizardry of Morrow, a near perfect pair-up. A signal of intent this song is, as by the end you already know RTTS have stepped up their game for this EP, both in theme, lyrical content and instrumentation.
Caught your breath? Good, we’ll move on. ‘Waiting to Arrive’ is track number two, opening with delicate piano twinkle mirrored by simple guitar picking, both backed by a rather quick snapping snare click (do I hear the ticking of that doomsday clock?) A bit like Depeche Mode with an undeniable Scots-rock bent in the verse, the chorus comes in kicking like a mule with soaring vocals; ‘Waiting to arrive, but we’re already… heeeere!’ A strong track, though my favourite part has to be the very end; as distorted guitar slowly but surely decays with atmospheric (to put it mildly) broken piano chords played as slow and soft as a funeral march, then before you realize it’s happening that decaying guitar bubbles back up, more and more until it shakes you retinas then – nothing, excluding a mild reverb as the track really does fade out this time. Haunting. Brilliant!
Now we come to, in my opinion, the centerpiece of the record; ‘Electrical Bugs’ is another straight-to-business number, a millisecond of whoosh before the band are in full mid-tempo swing. Now, you might find this a rather odd comparison, but the lead guitar line and various solos throughout this tune reminded me somewhat of the Sonic Adventure soundtrack – you know, that old video game? Not just in guitar tone but in the epic, unpretentious, tears-of-happiness mood it instils in me; maybe an unconventional statement but saying your music reminds me of some of the most care-free moments of my childhood is about the highest accolade I can attribute. The chorus chops and changes between an indie shuffle and onslaught of overdrive, the vocals distorted just a little for that walkie-talkie voice in your head quality.
Stephen has great singing range! He never overstretches his vocal cords or simply start to shout when going up the scale nor does he feel the need to warble like Elvis when bringing it back down again, both high and low-pitched deliveries cutting through and over the other instrument tracks juuust the right amount – it would be a real shame if his lyrical flair was washed away in the ocean of fuzz underpinning the EP’s most intense points.
‘Velvet Sky’ wins the award for best chorus, it’s so familiar but you know it’s doesn’t rip anything off, that feeling of familiarity just indicative of strong songwriting – the best songs make you feel as if they’ve been with you all along. Opening with a steady four-to-the-floor thumping bass drum (that ticking clock again?) and palm-muted lead guitar delayed to the point where you can’t really tell what the root note even was, almost indie-serenity, it truds along all funky, Stephen singing ‘You know that I’d rather be hated, by you than ignored’, once more for good luck, ‘BY YOU THAN IGNOOOORED’ before that previously cited awesome chorus kicks in. I’d love to have been in that studio hearing the playback for this one, getting slapped round the side of the head by those monitors. The lead guitar part around the three minute mark could give the one from Bowie’s ‘Moonage Daydream’ a kick up the backside in a square-go of the solos. Stephen is an absolute dynamite lyricist in terms of imagery; either heart-breaking or life-affirming, I can’t decide. Both, probably.
While we talk of imagery, the closing track fits firmly into the former tag; ‘Until I Fall Asleep’ brings the energy down for a more acoustic-driven track sounding not unlike a somber ceilidh waltz (though not in 3/4, just that you could definitely have a slow dance to this). Soft, simple guitar chords backed by warm strings but just a smidgen, more chamber group than full blown bombastic orchestra. I’m picturing a music video set around the ruined kirk halfway up Arthur’s Seat, fireflies floating about the dusk. This song is stripped of the creeping psychedelia of previous tracks as our narrator/character/subject (whatever term best describes the fictional source of all these thoughts and feelings) loses the ignorant bliss which shielded her from reality and starkly comes face-to-face with what she, and let’s face it, all of us are trying desperately to block out – the big bad world, the collapse of society, the end of days or anything as equally humbling, I’m sure every individual will interpret this differently. If all this philosophical undertone is getting you down in the dumps, go back, listen to ‘Static’ and start dancing round your bedroom all over again!
From start to finish we hear bright vocal delivery with strong lyrics and compelling imagery, varied uplifting melodies, a solid skeletal backbone in drummer Jason Rees, mental guitar work, scuzzy distortion, heartfelt piano lines, I could go on and on… You just know this EP will translate fluently into a live setting (a test run of ‘Electrical Bugs’ at the gig mentioned in my introduction can attest to that), but that’s not to diminish ElevenFiftySeven as a standalone piece of work, more than a mere audio snapshot of ‘where we are as a band’. The release date isn’t for a while yet, so don’t be surprised if you see me pushing this article more than a few times in the lead up to it – like a nagging parent who knows best, you’ll thank me in the long run!
Here are all the links you could need:
Official site: http://www.returntothesun.co.uk/