I have always felt it takes a little bit of eccentricity to become a great musician in the world of prog that I know and love, add it to the undoubted genius that the great proponents have and you have a compelling mix that, usually, produces a rich seam of interesting music. In my short career as an author for Lady Obscure Music Magazine I have had the undoubted pleasure of conversing with many great musicians who just cannot do enough to help, generally (but not exclusively) the small, independent artists or label representatives and, to a man, they are extremely interesting and likeable people. They have a sense of humour that is distinctively left field, if not downright wacky, which can become very evident in their music.
One musician who sits slap bang in the middle of this is British artist, Tom Slatter. As the man himself says, “What would it sound like if Nick Cave started writing songs with Genesis after watching too many episodes of Dr Who? How many songs about replacing your body parts with mechanical alternatives is too many? Does the world need a steampunk/scifi inspired prog rock act? Tom Slatter set out to answer none of these questions, but accidentally did.” You see what I mean?
Tom has been working as a solo artist since 2009 and has released 3 solo albums including 2013’s Three Rows of Teeth. Described by Steampunk Tribune as ‘an experiment too far’, all three of his albums have had a steampunk theme, moving into 2014 and Tom has released Through These Veins, the first of 3 releases based on the same concept.
Again, from the horse’s mouth, “What could be more prog rock than a concept album? ‘Two concept EPs and a concept album,’ is Tom Slatter’s answer. In his continuing effort to jump on the prog rock bandwagon, Tom has made the commercially savvy decision to dedicate the next twelve months to composing and recording two EPs and one album about the same story, including a twenty minute epic to crown the whole project off sometime in the Autumn. The first step in this cynical, conceptual sell out is Through These Veins, an EP that tells the story of a rogue surgeon who starts turning her patients into macabre living sculptures.”
The first track on the E.P., I Am Not Your Heart begins with an eerie, orchestral sounding intro before a slightly distorted guitar leads you on a merry dance. It’s all mysterious and keeps you slightly off balance. Tom’s vocal delivery is stripped back and earnest, weaving a tale of the macabre, giving evidence that he favours the darker side of the steampunk persona. Gruesome tales are woven by this distinctive vocal timbre and you find yourself on edge, there is a harder edge to the next section in the song, insistent and slightly eccentric, the guitar and keyboards holding true to the dystopian vision. Frankly the whole song is slightly disturbing as it piques your curiosity and leaves you, in the old Dr Who way, metaphorically hiding behind a cushion, occasionally taking a peek, intrigued and quite unable to turn away completely. This isn’t just music, it is storytelling too.
Segue – I am an Artist is a short track which, like its title suggests, is a smooth transition between two sections. Quite disturbing and creepy and, in fact, goose bump inducing, the hairs on my neck are still standing up.
Without My Medicine sees another point of view and is, in fact quite upbeat and honest in its persona. A nicely judged vocal performance again weaves a tale in your head. The echoing, slightly harsh guitar is laid back in its delivery. It is slightly off-key and has an almost jazz pop feel to it like Eels meets Ben Folds. Tom’s voice can soar quite nicely on this song and it has the feel of a slightly weird love song. The way Tom Slatter weaves his tale and has your mind seeing visions of his steampunk world, only due to the notes that enter your eardrums, is quite brilliant.
The final track on the E.P. is the title track Through These Veins and, once again, if there was such a thing as perfect steampunk progressive rock, Tom nails it with this song. This is music that will not be to every one’s taste, delivered with huge doses of black humour in an intensely macabre way as it is but, for this reviewer, who likes things that come from left field and make me use my brain rather than leave it redundant, it is very tongue in cheek and bordering on insane genius. The fact that this guy is also, a very talented musician with a distinctive voice is a definite bonus.
I have listened to Tom Slatter for quite a while now and, he is a musician who continuously reinvents himself and the genre he chooses to work in. I reiterate that this is something that will not be to everyone’s taste but, if you don’ try something different, how do you know if you’ll like it or not? It is irreverent and extremely clever, I can’t wait to hear the next installment and, I get the feeling that I am going to like it a lot. Give your ears a chance and listen to something that will make you smile as well as make you think.