Blaenavon aren’t your average indie band. When you look at their songwriting abilities and musical sophistication alone, in comparison to other bands, they’re practically worthy of Mozart or Beethoven status.
This Hampshire, UK trio makes percussion-heavy, melodic indie rock with haunting vocals, soaring soundscapes, and complex breakdowns. There’s a tiny bit of folk in their music too, but it’s very subtle. It really isn’t even fair to just call them an indie rock band because it almost feels like they’re above that label. Once you delve into the heavier bits of their music like “Prague” and my personal favorite, “I Will Be The World”, you realize that you had no idea what you were in for. I really struggle to compare their sound to any other band (other publications have made comparisons to Sigur Ros and Foals), but I think this a good sign and actually a great strength of theirs. They simply sound like Blaenavon and I’m sure the band would much prefer this lack of labels anyway.
The band (whose name comes from a town in Wales) formed a few years ago and it consists of Ben Gregory (lead vocals, guitar), Frank Wright (bass), and Harris McMillan (drums). First things first. Ben Gregory’s voice can literally do no wrong. Songs like “Just Desserts” and “Dragon” show his utterly beautiful, honest, tender, and unique voice, whereas songs like “Prague” and “I Will Be The World” show his darker side: it’s raw, gritty, emotive, and seemingly imperfect but still somehow perfect. Wright and McMillan, on the other hand, are a rhythm section made of steel. McMillan sounds like he has eight arms on “Prague” and Wright particularly shines on their track, “Destiny’s Mild.”
So, the band has incredible technical abilities and a knack for complex musical arrangements, but what also needs to be said is that their lyrics (written by Gregory) add another layer of skill and sophistication to their music. In an interview with HISKIND, Gregory was asked about his lyrics and he said, “I went through a stage where all the best songs I wrote came out of reading Waugh novels, so to a certain extent I am [influenced by literature], but a lot of it is quite introspective really. I don’t really reference people very much but I definitely take cues from people I’m a fan of. T.S Eliot maybe [laughs].”
They’ve already worked with producer, Jim Abbiss, (Arctic Monkeys, Catfish and the Bottlemen) on their debut album (which is expected to be released in 2017), they have a record deal with Transgressive Records (Two Door Cinema Club, Foals, Alvvays, Gengahr) in the UK, and they just recently signed a record deal with Canvasback / Atlantic (Alt-J, Frightened Rabbit, The Orwells) in the US. They’ve toured extensively in the UK and have played festivals such as Glastonbury, Latitude, Truck, and Reading and Leeds. Now that they’ve signed to a US label, they’re also due to play a pair of shows in New York this November.
Their first official release came in 2013 with the release of Into The Night / Denim Patches. Although these two tracks are far from their best work, there were already glimmers of promise for the band. Later that year, they also released an EP called Koso, which contained four new tracks: “Gods”, “Lost In Paris”, “Prague”, and “Wunderkind.” “Gods” and “Lost in Paris” demonstrate the bands ability to write soaring choruses and evoke such high levels of energy and emotion from their songs. “Prague” is arguably the EP’s strongest track. This drum-centric track begins slowly and steadily with Gregory’s alluring vocals, but then it’s got this insane, chaotic, and loud guitar and drum build up that seemingly comes out of nowhere, but somehow fits right in.
Though the studio version of this track probably still reigns supreme because of all its chaotic glory, it’s also worth noting that the acoustic version has more than double the views of the official video on YouTube and for good reason. The acoustic version makes it abundantly clear just how talented the band really are with Gregory’s raw, quivering vocals, Wright’s ability to play stand up bass, and McMillan’s natural feel for rhythm. “Wunderkind”, on the other hand, is a lot more calm than the other tracks and it’s a nice juxtaposition to the rest of the EP.
The band’s next official release came in 2015 in the form of an EP called Miss World. It contained three new tracks: “Hell Is My Head”, “Destiny’s Mild”, and “Dragon.” The first track, “Hell Is My Head”, is one where McMillan really takes center stage, although Wright and Gregory aren’t far behind. It’s one of Gregory’s finest vocal performances and it still stands up as one of the band’s best tracks. “Destiny’s Mild” is a perfect example of a track where the band’s lyrics are very much at the forefront. Gregory’s stirring voice sings some of his best lines yet like, “won’t you take me away from a sea painted on the stone”, “my blood runs blue like a lonely child in the afternoon”, “savage underneath my skin just god it wasn’t heroin”, and “the wind tastes sour on my skin and bones.” “Dragon” is the EP’s softest offering with the vocal ooh’s providing a transcendent escape for the listener.
Earlier this year, the band released its finest single to date, “I Will Be The World.” The song has a beautiful guitar intro, which is nicely coupled with Gregory’s awe-inspiring vocal delivery, but then, it takes a swift turn at the one minute mark with a noisy U-turn of epic proportions. If you thought the shift in”Prague” was crazy, wait till you hear this one. In the beginning, if you listen closely, you can hear soft, whispering vocals in the background, but by the time the calm before the storm is over, Gregory sounds like a madman and it’s just brilliant.
2016 has proved to be a fruitful year for the band as there has also been two more releases since then: an EP called Let’s Pray and a single called “My Bark Is Your Bite.” The EP consists of four tracks (three of them are brand new): “Let’s Pray”, “I Will Be The World”, “Something Boring”, and “Just Desserts.” The lead track, “Let’s Pray” is a simple, upbeat, and catchy track, while “Something Boring” is its darker, slower, and more complex counterpart. Along with “I Will Be The World”, “Just Desserts” is a standout track and it’s probably the band’s best stripped down track. The minimalistic piano playing is enchanting and the vocals are both soothing and uplifting.
“My Bark Is Your Bite” is their most recent release and its accompanying music video was just released today. The track’s lyrics are interestingly dark in the midst of a more upbeat song (something that The Smiths were really great at), but it’s a wonderful contradiction and it really shows how far the band’s songwriting has come from just a few years ago.
The music video was directed by one of my favorite actors, Craig Roberts, (Submarine, The Double, The Fundamentals Of Caring) and it’s quite spooky. According to an email from the band, Ben said this song’s lyrics “mean rather a lot to me.” In regards to the music video, he also said, “We wanted to find a video director who would understand the emotion and dark sincerity of the track and reflect this visually. Craig was amazing. He understood the song, which I think warrants various interpretations, so accurately with regard to my intention. Aesthetically it’s dark and gorgeous, whilst the fluency of the one-shot style faithfully mirrors the lyrical progression.”
I sincerely hope the band’s debut album isn’t too far off because I think it’s fair to say that the sky is the limit for this band. With their sophisticated songwriting, their near virtuoso musical abilities, and innate ability to produce serious indie rock melodies and choruses, they are completely in control of their own destiny. I also hope that their recent signing to Canvasback means that a full US tour is imminent. The band plays at Baby’s Alright in Brooklyn, NY on November 1st (tickets here) and at Berlin in NYC on November 2nd (tickets here). You can get future updates from the band by following them on Twitter here.