SOUTH - Joel Cadbury - Jamie McDonald - Brett Shaw
"Dear all... After a long three months of making music and making blogs, we are nearly at the end of the recording process. Much music has been recorded, ideas bounced, automation faded, pro tools crashed, pianos jammed, guitars rocked, pedals stomped, phase correlated, blogs written and lunch eaten. It's been wonderful to share the whole experience with you. The album should be with you the first quarter of the New Year, and it's been a pleasure..." South's MySpace page, 7/23/07
As the euphoric blog post above suggests, SOUTH's sublime fourth album "YOU ARE HERE," (bluhammock music/Young American Recordings; release date: April 15th) is the sound of a band at its creative zenith, supremely confident in their craft, attentive to their muse, and thankful to their fans for what has been an exhilarating two-decade-spanning career.
South transcend music industry's vagaries (like fear, confusion, denial, self-loathing, etc.) as well as the latest leapt upon bandwagon (80s retreads, angsty emo, mindless nu rave, etc). Instead, the band's modus operandi, is an unremitting focus on their music - whether signed to a multi-national or indie, whether it's licensed to an award-winning blockbuster "Sexy Beast," "The O.C.", or "Six-Feet Under," or whether playing Glastonbury, Fabric, or the Mercury Lounge.
Their methodology is a continued sonic exploration of melody refracted through an eclectic palate of disparate genres and atmospherics blowing by artificial distinctions made by radio programmers and marketing "geniuses." "We couldn't make a record sound like something other than who we are," says Brett Shaw, South's drummer, multi-instrumentalist and You Are Here producer. "Making music to us is an art form and producing music so more people will buy it isn't interesting to us. It would destroy the soul of our music." And without soul there would be no South.
And also, perhaps, without King Crimson there would be no South. No, no, no, not specifically the pioneering prog-rockers per se, but David Cross who played with The Crimson from 1972-1974 and was also the band's music teacher in the early-1990s at London's Haverstock secondary school. It was Cross who allowed multi-instrumentalists Brett, Joel Cadbury and Jamie McDonald into the school rehearsal space at lunchtime and after school. "He was a great music teacher," Jamie recalls. And without his tutelage it is possible there would be no South.
Or perhaps all praise is due Peshay, the 90s drum'n'bass DJ and Metalheadz member. Peshay, after all, was managed by John Brice, who also manages South and who early in the band's career connected the band to James Lavelle of Mo' Wax records (home to DJ Shadow, Blackalicious, Money Mark) . "John happened to have an early set of demos he gave to James Lavelle," McDonald explains, "James called back the next day." The demos were released as "The 4-Track Sessions" and right away the band began work at Wessex Studios on their cracking 2001 debut "From Here On In."
Meticulously produced by Lavelle, "From Here on In" is a majestic hybrid of chunky rock rhythms, tender elegies, multifarious electronic instrumentation, Madchester beats, space rock, orchestral flourishes and above all else gorgeous soaring melodies that established the bands' steadfast non-denominational music approach. Critics and fans alike swooned before the 1-2-3-knockout punch of the dazzling "Paint the Silence," (the song played on "The O.C." while Ryan and Marissa rode the Ferris wheel), the foot stomping "Keep Close," and slide-guitar blues ballad "I Know What You're Like."
But it was 2003's epochal "With the Tides," produced by Dave Eringa (Manic Street Preachers, Ash and, of course, Kylie Minogue) that brought South its greatest acclaim. With a more honed and lush approach, the band eschewed the electronic instrumentals for electrifying epiphanies. Songs like the revelatory " Colours in Waves" with Cadbury's mellifluous vox wrapped in exploding dynamics, the bittersweet symphonic "Natural Disasters," and the transcendent "Same Old Story" made clear the London-based trio weren't a flash in the pan but a band of gifted musicians willing to take creative risks for massively rewarding sonic returns.
A five-song limited-edition EP "Speed Up/Slow Down" presaged 2006's radiant "Adventures in the Underground Journey to the Stars," an album of luminous melodies and brilliant songcraft. The band's new Hackney home studio helped them attain pop perfection on songs like "Up Close and Personal," Flesh & Bone," and "Safety in Numbers." The band toured the U.S that spring with Something for Rockets and Margot & the Nuclear So and So's and afterwards released the concert CD/DVD package, "Safety in Numbers: South's Tour Diary" the same year. Do yourself a favor now: pop in the DVD and revel to the explosive live version of "Up Close and Personal" - enough said.
Which brings us to our raison d'être: "You Are Here," the band's magnificent fourth full-length and the first album produced solely by Brett Shaw. "It was quite empowering to do an album entirely on our own, to be able to create when we wanted and as we wanted," enthuses Shaw. "It allowed us to experiment without all the pressure." This time out both James and Brett took a greater role in songwriting and singing. "It's the album that most represents the individuals in the band," says MacDonald, "and the influences we each bring, while at the same time retaining the moments that could never have happened but for the combination of influences."
While the band cops to listening to everything from LCD Soundsystem and Al Green to the Kings of Leon, Phoenix and The Clash, nothing can prepare you for the scope of "You Are Here's" inspired musical reach. The swirling psychedelic pop opener "Wasted" is flawless and unclassifiable; the wistful and jangly first single, "Better Things," is the song Badly Drawn Boy wish he wrote; "The Pain," wouldn't sound out of place on the Kinks' Village Green Preservation Society if the Beach Boys were harmonizing; "She's Half Crazy" sounds half like Bryan Ferry and half like an invitation for you to shake your ass on the dance floor; "Lonely Highs" somehow manages to mash Mariachi horns with Radiohead; and finally "Zither" is a shimmering space rock ballad that hits a John Cage silence before returning to what's either a hidden track or a backwards version of the same song...know what I mean?
"It's quite difficult to pin down our style because all of our records have been so different," Joel says. "I can't really put it in a nutshell or even in a long winded speech....we make music from the heart, from the soul." And that's what sustained both South and their fans through all these years.