“A Long Way to Fall” – Sound of the Sirens

5 stars (out of 5)

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Long Way to Fall TitleI’ve got to be honest about this; this gig doesn’t really have a downside. You get to listen to new music, go to see bands, take photos and meet and interview some really interesting people; and that’s just when things are going reasonably well. Sometimes you get lucky and a band’s better than you expected and, very occasionally, usually when you least expect it, you hear something that just pushes all the right buttons. I had one of those moments last week when I went to see Mad Dog Mcrea and had the incredibly good luck to see a support set by Sound of the Sirens. They were so good that it would be pretty rude if I didn’t tell you about their debut album, “A Long Way to Fall”. It was released in 2013, so I’m a little bit off the pace here, but I’m hoping that Abbe and Hannah will forgive me for that.

Based in Exeter, Abbe Martin and Hannah Wood have been working together as Sound of the Sirens for over six years now and recorded “A Long Way to Fall” at Terry Britten’s State of the Ark studio in Richmond but, enough about that, it’s time to get back to those buttons. If you can press the ones marked good songs, good vocals (even better, harmonies as well) and interesting instrumental arrangements, then you’ve got me, and anything else is a bonus. Abbe and Hannah did all of that live, so I couldn’t wait to hear the studio version.

If you’ve looked at the top of this piece, you’ll know how many stars I gave the album, so there’s no point trying to build up the suspense; I love it. So what about the good songs button? There isn’t a bad or even average song on the album; they’re all very good and some are exceptional. Actually that’s the wrong way round, most of the songs are exceptional and the rest are very good. It’s all very personal but, for me, “The Night Before”, “In This Time”, “Anything Less”, “Up to the House”, “The Gift” and “Faith in Fire” are all examples of great songwriting. Not that there’s anything wrong with “Afraid of the Dark”, “Who We Are” and “A Thousand Words”; they’re very good songs.

There are a few themes running through the lyrics; most of the songs are about relationships, whether it’s failed or failing relationships, or even ghosts of relationships and bring in references to jealously, blame, self-delusion and manipulation which are ultimately counter-balanced by strength, self-belief and independence. It sounds unlikely from the raw materials, but the overall message is uplifting, despite the elemental imagery of darkness, water and flames running through the songs. The album’s opener, “The Night Before” sets the tone with its tale of a relationship falling apart and descending into jealousy and recriminations; it’s dark, but it’s painfully honest as is “In This Time” which explores the tensions between self-reliance and accepting the need for love and affection.

What about good vocals then? Well, Abbe and Hannah both have fabulous voices but the wonderful thing is that they complement each other so well; they both have pure, powerful voices and Hannah has some folk intonations, while Abbe has a slightly more husky pop/rock sound. Anyway, it works; the default setting is harmonies that work well to build up the texture of the song but the texture of the two voices also creates some hairs-on-the back-of-the-neck moments. From the gentle homophony of the final verse of “Anything Less” to the homophony and counterpoint of “Afraid of the Dark” and the counterpoint about three minutes in to “Up to the House”, it’s genuinely spine-tingling.

You might think that you can’t get a lot of variety and dynamic range out of two people with instruments, but Sound of the Sirens aren’t having any of that. Yes, you get the quiet, introspective two voices and two guitars thing, but you also get some variety with Abbe’s mandolin, and the stompbox and kickdrum (Hannah and Abbe respectively) allow them to move swiftly up through the gears from cruising to full throttle and turbo between and within songs. “A Thousand Words” is percussive throughout in a bit of a Proclaimers way, while “Who We Are” is almost ska/folk punctuated by a very nice call and response section and “The Gift” begins with an ethereal a cappella intro before building up to a rhythmical climax and dying away again with an a cappella outro.

Faith in Fire” closes the album and it’s a perfect way to go out because it pulls together all of the strands of rhythm, rhyme and harmony that make Sound of the Sirens such a compulsive attraction. The lyrics are dark, Gothic and elemental (imagine a twenty-first century Cathy and Heathcliff) and the song builds from a gentle finger-picked guitar backing and quiet solo vocal through the introduction of the harmony vocal and the gradual pick-up of tempo through the bridge to the repetition of the word ‘told’ which brings in both guitars and percussion at full throttle before a percussion and a cappella breakdown. And then it builds back up again to huge finish on ’Dancing on the mess that we made’. And if that three minutes and twenty-one seconds of magic hasn’t dragged you through the emotional wringer, then you have no soul. I haven’t heard a song I love this much (recorded and live) in a long, long time.

If you want an album packed to the rafters with twenty-first century acoustic anthems, then you’ve definitely come to the right place. Abbe Martin and Hannah Wood have a chemistry that’s almost impossible to resist, and why should you want to resist? You should buy the album and keep an eye on MusicRiot for tour dates, because you really need to see Sound of the Sirens live. Enough is never enough.

 

“A Long Way to Fall” is available now as a CD or download on the band’s website.