171, the new EP from Aidan Sheppard, is a teasing monster of a thing. As this review is getting typed the notes on each of the 8 songs have descended into scrawl. The 'sounds like' scribbling is as long as it is varied, going from Sigur Ros, Armen Van Burnen, A-HA, all the way to McFly, it is incredibly hard to pin down to 1 genre and this is said as a true compliment of an excellent body of work. Transcendence of genre is easy to get very wrong, this hits the nail and brings the listener on a tentative journey, creating immersive soundscapes that serve to accentuate the vocals when they are used, or create full emotions in their absence. It has a lot of collaborators that have all done excellent jobs in their delivery to stand their own songs out.
That is the abridged version of events, let's try to break this down a little bit further.
The EP opens with 'Stay awake'. It is a fantastic opening to the EP, starting with a slow melodic build. There are moments of dystopia within its opening minutes as smooth strings are conflicted with a heavily affected section, to let you know the build is on its way. And when it comes it has a very satisfying pay off. By the end of it, the wheels are definitely in motion.
Following swiftly on is 'Lights' and the wheels only pick up pace from here. There is an obvious familiarity with the hook line 'Lights will guide you home' (damn you coldplay) but this should not distract you long enough to care as this song uses layers of complexity to build a great overall tune, including some lovely guitar work, used sparingly but to maximum effect.
Then the tease.
In an EP you expect reflection to come around track 6. Not so on 171. The next 2 songs, 'Half Moon' and 'War', bring a much more introspective mood to proceedings. In truth, they are 2 of my favourite songs on the EP. 'Half Moon' is a beautiful 6/8 timed piece with some really lovely vocal melodies but also content (I won't spoil what they are, you will have to go listen). 'War' is a brooding number with a big build, and there is a saxophone in the outro, so for no other reason, that deserves a listen.
We then take a turn into spoken word, with 'searching', a short 2 minute interlude to the EP and perfectly placed to reset us moving into the business end of the record.
'Be Here' brings us back up to pace with a bag. This song brings back the big drums, the big synth and a heavily digitised vocal. Interestingly the bass patterns used in parts were much more complex than I was expecting, but do a great job in accentuating the overall timbre of the song. There is also a few skipped drops on this which go part of the way to me calling this a teasing monster. You expect the drop to come, when you expect it to, everything you are hearing tells you it is on its way, then it isn't, Aidan skips the big reveal for a couple of beats, or bars. On first listening it is irritating (possibly you are just irritated by yourself) but then on review it makes very good sense.
'Working Sundays' is the penultimate track on the EP, and it was here that so many mid 80's, early 90's references can be heard. Yet it is not easy to put your finger on definitively. Lyric delivery has a certain Michael Stump quality whereas the song pulsates along and has some really nostalgic key tones that are sure to ring true with a lot of listeners.
Finally then we have 'Normal things' which could not tail off this EP any better. Starting off almost akin to an 80's sci-fi flick it creates a beautifully slow build of a song, interspersed with some excellently chosen vocals.
We could go on about this record for days. There are so many tasteful elements in the production, in the delivery, that deserver mention, but we have to keep the word count down. It has been incredibly well thought out. Every song leads perfectly into the next, the flow is excellent and Aidan has a fantastic ability to compose and structure not only a great tune, but when to hold back. There are moments in your head that you are begging for one more line, and the tease comes in. It is an incredibly mature and well produced record and absolutely, without question should be something you listen to as a matter of priority.