It’s nice to know that there are still young talents trying to establish themselves within the perculiar genre that is Prog and at last year’s Summer’s End Festival the new venue allowed for the addition of acoustic acts to the line-up. One of these was 19-year-old singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Saul Blease from Bristol.
Performing alone, Saul sang and played keyboard through half a dozen pieces from this, his debut solo album, which came out at the tail end of 2014 to reveal the stripped down songs in all their glory. Saul’s music fuses piano-based songwriting with elements of heavy rock, alternative and prog, splashes of electronica thrown in for good measure. From school recorder, Saul moved on to piano and guitar whilst a chorister at Bristol Cathedral (now “retired”). In 2009 he got the opportunity to sing with Twelfth Night, a video of his performance with the band appearing on the bonus DVD that accompanied their Play On biography. Whilst working in band situations and developing the necessary skills, he has been writing, recording and releasing his own material since the age of 15, emerging to play acoustic sets of original material in 2014 which led to him being asked to play at Summer’s End.
There is no denying that he knows his way around a good tune and Daybreak features 9 originals plus a cover of The Pixies’ Where Is My Mind?. The opening, an enigmatic and dense scene setter of atmospheric keys and rhythms, leads straight into Bleeding Soul‘s modern alternative sounds, the cut-up rhythms giving an unexpected dimension. The chorus is uplifting and energetic whilst the verse vocal with supporting piano defines the core of Blease’s approach.
Falling, the video for which features Austrian skydiver Felix Baumgartner whose 24 mile descent was the inspiration for the song, was one of Saul’s first offerings to get airplay and this is Blease at his best with a lovely repetitive guitar motif and piano pitched against pounding drums.
Another highlight comes with the sparse piano and insistent vocal of Blue Monday. The song itself is beautifully delivered but the drums slightly overpower it when they arrive, the use of drum machine no doubt a little off-putting for some but as a one-man-band you can’t reasonably expect him to do everything. The longest track on the album, Where Were You?, is a little overstretched in the middle but elsewhere the use of organ is good and overdriven guitars take it into indie territory. The structure of the song is again built on piano and voice embellished with some nice choices of additional sounds but the synthetic bass pulsing gets a bit much here and there. The space inherent in the piano sections counteract with heavier parts and the song explodes on a Foo Fighters style soaring centrepiece.
The opening section of Break Of Day is lovely, the choices just right and suiting Saul’s voice which emerges as the track builds to burst open into Muse-like rocking before returning to where it began. This is certainly one of my favourites on Daybreak, another is the beautiful, bell-like melody of Seasons, Blease’s vocal working well backed by strings. A change of tack into the percussive gamelan intro to The Other Me where the structure reminds me a bit of Nirvana with more good use of the strings.
Where Is My Mind? is a nice version of a familiar Pixies song that stays perhaps too close to the original, including the decision to facilitate an American accent as it would be interesting to hear Saul put his own spin on it, but he sounds great during the energetic finale of Goodbye as it breaks open to a rocking finish.
Overall, this is a refreshing and well put together batch of songs with a modern sound and at its best there are some real gems here. As an artist the feeling is that Saul is still trying to properly find himself and how to integrate his acoustic work with his rockier side. The former is possibly the most successful element on this album but as a whole it is a very listenable work that bears repeated visits. There are slight vocal wobbles here and there where Saul seems to be pushing the edge of his range but nothing too problematic and it would be good to hear him fully developing his own voice and injecting more personality but this is sure to come over time and it is still early days for him. The songs and structures themselves are very interesting despite the limitations of the production (by Saul) which is a little dense and lacking in clarity. That said this is pretty minor stuff and it is a decent recording, the quality of the material shining through.
Daybreak is an entertaining listen from a young man who will hopefully get the opportunity to fully blossom and show us what he can do, perhaps leading a band capable of doing justice to his ideas and playing to his strengths next time.
[Footnote: Saul has started an ongoing project to commemorate the centenary of The First World War and is planning on recording and releasing a suite of songs between now and 2018 that make up a full-scale work, the first part of which, 1914, can be heard Here]
01. Everything Is About To Change (2:16)
02. Bleeding Soul (5:28)
03. Falling (3:14)
04. Blue Monday (6:43)
05. Where Were You? (8:00)
06. Break of Day (4:37)
07. Seasons (5:23)
08. The Other Me (5:09)
09. Where Is My Mind? (4:04)
10. Goodbye (1:59)
Total Time – 46:53
Saul Blease – Guitar, Keyboards, Vocals
Record Label: Independent
Year Of Release: 2014