- Album Reviews

Tom Slatter – Black Water EP

Independent musicians are generally very nice people. The year I have spent being an author, and now senior editor, at Lady Obscure Music Magazine has put me in contact with some genuine and down to earth people. This picture that the majority of  people have of musicians being pampered prima donnas with their heads up their own arse is, usually, very far from the truth.

However, to become a musician, I feel you need a modicum of eccentricity and some musicians have more than a modicum. In fact, some have a downright flood! These personalities quite often manifest themselves in the music that is produced, delivering quirky, thoughtful and inventive compositions.

So called ‘Steampunk’ musician Tom Slatter could be considered at the Niagara Falls end of the eccentricity scale. I have had electronic conversation with Tom over social media and, along with fellow Brit Simon Godfrey (sadly departed from his native shores across the Atlantic) his frequent, irreverent and impious posts on Facebook never fail to raise a smile and a multitude of clever replies. There is intelligence to his music that you will appreciate upon multiple listens and audio dissection of his releases.

In Tom’s own words (with tongue very much in cheek!) he is “An amazing, fragrant and sexually alluring musician whose animal magnetism…..” you get the point I’m sure!

Hence the excitement and enthusiasm I feel when I know Tom is releasing something brand new. In January 2014 Tom Slatter began work on his two EP, one album, steampunk-prog, concept project. 6 months later, and halfway through the project, Tom is keeping his head down and plowing forward in the hope that his creative vision is nearer to triumph than it is to madness.

 ‘Black Water’ is the second of his concept EPs, following on from ‘Through these Veins.’ Realising that the first EP’s high concept, narrative songs might be a little too prog for some, Tom is trying a different tack with the new CD. He explains: ‘I tried writing some more confessional, singer-songwriter type songs. The idea was to focus on acoustic instruments and sing about my feelings. But I ended up singing about werewolves instead’.

‘Black Water’ is a collection of four acoustic songs detailing moments in the life of Seven Bells John, a character that first came to life Tom’s ten minute steamprog song ‘The Steam Engine Murders and the Trial of Seven Bells John’. The character was seen again in the songs and accompanying short story for Through These Veins, and has in fact been popping up in his songs for the last 5 years.

‘The fourth track on the new EP deliberately harks back to one on my first album and narratively speaking the title track from Black Water takes place in the middle of the title track from my second album, Ironbark. I’ve always been a fan of narrative music, like Operation Mindcrime by Queensryche, or Coheed and Cambria’s multi-album concept stuff, and these news songs really follow that tradition.’

Title track Black Water begins slow and methodical with a simple acoustic guitar rhythm and feels quite melodramatic and suspenseful. Tom’s signature vocal that drips with emotion and feeling joins the fray. I am a big fan of Tom’s voice but it does not appeal to everyone. To me, it fits the subject matter perfectly and when, on this song, it is multi-tracked, it adds a clever layer of sophistication. The acoustic nature of the album is an excellent foil for Tom’s clever ideas and lends a sophisticated, storytelling appeal to the music. This song is fairly mellow in delivery and lulls you into a cathartic feeling of ease and invulnerability. It is a very pleasing, mature and laid back start to the EP.

Nightfall takes a darker route and starts with a discordant note that leaves you feeling unbalanced. A plaintive vocal takes up the narrative along with a wistful acoustic guitar. The whole song has a melodramatic, theatrical edge to it, like watching a thriller at the cinema that keeps you on the edge of your seat. It is melodic but in an idiosyncratic and quirky way. Imagine yourself sat around a campfire in the dark as a mysterious bard regales tales of the dark and dangerous and you won’t be far off what is in store for you with this track. He song carries on, low key but purposeful. Listen to it in the dark with headphones on but don’t forget to check under your bed for the horrifying monsters that hide whilst you sleep.

Calmness is restored to a certain extent as the introduction to Moon in the Water winds its way through your troubled psyche, urging calm as it passes. Tom takes his role as troubadour even further with this song. His voice has a fragile timbre and the gentle guitar and flute like keyboards attain a mediaeval tone to them. He tells an arresting tale that holds your attention and captivates you in a mesmerising fashion. The basics of acoustic guitar and bard like vocals are a very intelligent choice and work incredibly well.

Ghosts in Our Dream brings this four track EP to a close much too early in my opinion. Slightly divergent at first but burgeoning into an attractive song that works in places where it perhaps shouldn’t. Tom sings in a sorrowful fashion throughout the EP but on this track he seems to take it a stage further with a more forceful delivery that enhances the slightly vexed and malcontent feeling. The instrumental section that leads the song out is quite ingenious and ends the EP on an uplifting note.

Never one to produce anything mainstream, Tom Slatter takes his music in the direction he wants it to go and brooks no influence but those of his own choice. I could quite imagine Tom playing the role of a Bond villain with aplomb and, perhaps, he should write the next Bond theme. To me he is the epitome of the modern, maverick musician whose ideas are so out there at times that they should, in fact, be patented. I await the final part of his trilogy with much anticipation.

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