Stephen Bailey’s new release is a beautifully connected lo-fi journey.
Cryptically titled ‘9’ ,Bailey’s latest record has a cohesive quality that many albums lack, flowing effortlessly from moment to moment.
Because of the spacious nature of 9 I found repeat listens to be rewarding. The old school hard-left-hard-right panning of the instruments lets you really dial in to each of them. It is definitely beat-centric, with unusual drum rhythms being locked in and looped, creating platforms on which the other elements perch.
9 wants to be listened to as one distinct piece of music. A carefully selected arsenal of instruments and sounds weave each track together. Accompanying Stephen Bailey’s laid back Lennon - esque vocals, the drums, bass, guitar and synth follow suit in an entwining arrangement that somehow never steps on another’s toes. Each fragment becomes a unique jigsaw piece of an all-embracing puzzle.
You’re introduced to 9 with ‘Thycaline’, a gust of sweeping psychedelia that plucks you from the ground and suspends you in place, until ‘Number 9’ breaks the tranquility with a thumping off-kilter drumbeat. It hypnotically repeats throughout, becoming a rigid backbone in an otherwise shifting soundscape. Bailey’s haunting vocals sing ‘The Sun still shines for you’ and it really does feel that way, as if the Sun hangs constant in the sky as clouds meander passed.
‘Hyde’ is a standout moment, marrying a pulsating bass with a staccato synth, together leading the congregation. It creates a huge sense of longing as Bailey reminisces of a moment he let slip away. It’s one of the most relatable moments of 9. We’ve all been swept up in a moment we don’t want to end, only to realise afterwards we were focusing on that yearning instead of the moment itself. The message is mimicked by the music, as it meanders cathartically, almost as if procrastinating, as Bailey sings ‘I took too long to decide’.
Another intangible quality this album captures is restraint. There are many moments when I feel the music could take a hard left but instead sticks to it’s guns and stays faithful to it’s overarching narrative. Bailey is definitely aware of this, as shown in it’s mid album instrumental track ‘Run’ that uses the opportunity of the free space left by the vocals to fill with a more emotionally poignant guitar line; one of the few moments when the album ‘breaks character’, acting as a fantastic palette cleanser to keep the remainder of the album just as fresh as the beginning.
Stephen Bailey’s return with 9 is a triumphant one, full of moving lyrics and choice musical moments. Nothing distracts from anything else, it’s a perfectly balanced cacophony of delicately placed lines, carrying lyrics that encourage self reflection in a quietly optimistic manner. It feels as if Stephen Bailey is figuring out how to piece together his own puzzle, and you’re along for the ride, and it’s a ride worth taking.
FFO Tame Impala, Mini Mansions, Revolver era Beatles
Troy Tittley - Riff Media.