Album Reviews

Mike Kershaw – Departure

In life one must progress, standing still leaves you mired in the here and now and you rapidly become the past. Humanity would not be what it is today without advances and progression in our civilisation.

Now I don’t want to get all deep and meaningful here, you know that is not where I come from but, in the majority of cases, that previous paragraph rings true when you talk about music too. You can’t simply keep regurgitating the same old sound if you want to carry on appealing to your audience and being even moderately successful.

I’m not saying you must make wholesale changes every time you release a new piece of work but, subtle improvements and alterations will usually enhance your musical endeavours.

To come to the point, the album (or E.P. to be precise) I am reviewing today is Mike Kershaw’s latest, ‘Departure’, and, the question I ask is, does it deliver anything different to his previous release, and one that I also reviewed, ‘Ice Age’?

I liked ‘Ice Age’ and the stark beauty of its pared back and synth-heavy atmosphere meaning that ‘Departure’ has a lot to live up to. Would it deliver the same dark moods and deep meanings that hitherto impressed me so much?

Mike has been very much a solo musician on his four previous releases and the first change you notice with ‘Departure’ is the fact that he collaborates with other musicians on two of the tracks on this five track E.P. Highly intrigued by this fact, I delved into the music to see where it would take him.

The first track on the album is Farewell and it is the first of his collaborations. Joining Mike are Fractal Mirror’s Frank Urbaniak on drums and the undoubted talent of Gareth Cole on guitar. This track is singularly upbeat and very different to the dark hints and contrasts of light and dark that epitomised ‘Ice Age’. Mike’s vocal is much more upbeat and delicate and the jangling, tinkling delight of the guitar adds a definitive feeling of sunshine and happiness to proceedings. Frank’s drumming adds a subtler layer of sophistication to take Mike’s music up a definite notch. It is a Mike Kershaw track but one that has been ramped up to another level and an excellent start to the E.P.

The heavily programmed keyboard intro to Frances Mary Chambers is a dead giveaway that this is solely Mike’s work and yet there is a sophisticated and cultured edge to the song. Whether it is the production or mastering (this time done by Bad Elephant’s David Elliott) is open to question but, to my ears, Mike has definitely raised the bar this time. A deeper more sensual musicality and a fuller feel to his vocal delivery add to an impressive change in sound that really registers with me.

Mike’s second collaboration An Ordinary Poison is a contemplative delight. A re-working of one of his older songs, it begins with that deeper, brooding keyboard sound that is a slight improvement on his previous work. Frank Urbaniak’s measured and smooth drumming style just adds to the reflective feel of the track and his colleagues from Fractal Mirror, Ed Van Haagen (bass and keyboards) and Leo Koperdraat (guitar and backing vocals) ensure a polished feel to the finished product. A faint but noticeable increase in the amount of guitars that Mike would normally use is very welcome as this accomplished release continues to surprise. Mr Kershaw carries on with his thoughtful and reflective vocal delivery but, this time, the addition of earnest backing vocals from Wouter Van Hal, Charlotte Koperdraat and Mike’s better half Julie Kershaw adds an additional gloss to this superb track.

Origami begins with a speculative and vintage keyboard note and electronic drum beat that just shouts Kraftwerk and synth heavy eighties pop music to me. Manufactured, electronic and industrial, it is very clever in the way the hollow, foreboding synthesiser perfectly matches Mike’s deadpan vocal, deliberately void of too much emotion. This track is most similar in style to those on ‘Ice Age’ which is no surprise as it was recorded during the same sessions.

The final track on this release, Old News, is a perfect contrast to Origami. Another track attributable completely to Mike alone but, in comparison to the previous one, it has a warmth and depth to it where Origami is stark and blasted. Mike’s voice has a melancholy edge to it but is much fuller and rounded and shows a lot of progression. Sincere, sorrowful and wistful, it pulls at your emotions and immerses you in the song to a level where you lose yourself in the music.

I said about ‘Ice Age’ that it was not for the faint of heart with its dark moods and deep meanings and, whilst there are hints of that same feel to this E.P., as its title suggests, it is very much a departure from what has gone before. Has Mike Kershaw progressed with his latest release? Definitely and with added aplomb, this a work that improves in just about every area and shows that Mike has the skill and know how to keep on forging ahead in this congested musical arena.

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