Welcome To The Ball by UK singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist David Ell is a big screen cinematic, emotional explosion of a pop record, wrapped up in the guise of a gauzy lo-fi home recording.
It really is incredible what people can do with limited means these days. And while the proliferation of music erupting out of bedrooms and parlors and backyard jams has led many would-be arbiters of taste to bemoan the death of our culture and the decline in standards and good taste, too often this is merely quick, dismissive listening. You've got to dig in, read between the lines.
When you hear the layers and layers of piano stacking up with undulating, liquid guitar lines and a frenetic drumbeat on "Reach," one of the emotional outbursts that makes Welcome To The Ball so, so fine, it is clear that David Ell has a clear musical vision in mind, and can push the catharsis to a frenzied explosion, like leaving a pot to boil until the water is gone. The production style, however, leans towards a flat, murky DIY style, creating a wall-of-sound that might leave your normal pop enthusiast befuddled.
The proliferation of melodic hooks, guitar riffs and production flourishes like on "The Man Behind The Mask" or "We Carved Our Names Into The Wood a.k.a. Scars" reveal to those who are looking/listening, that Ell is packed to the gills with musical ideas,and any dismissal based on presentation is merely classist prejudice.
David Ell could be U2, with the right production budget.
Not only is Welcome To The Ball musically strong with every song having distinct segments, building like a bottle-rocket and then crashing like an amber wave, it's built around an interesting theme as well. David Ell spent some time in Venice taking inspiration from the Venetian masks. He wanted to play with the idea of different roles for different situations, how we all wear masks at different times in our lives.
Welcome To The Ball is what it might sound like if Beach Boys collaborator Van Dyke Parks were to construct a song cycle with The Cure. Atmospheric, poetic, gentle Goth-tinted post-punk meets a kind of vaudevillian sensibility, a steely music hall vibe for end times.
On "Reach" David Ell sings, "I'm reaching for the stars/I'm reaching for the sky/if this body gives out/if this breath gives out/the soul never will." To me, this is the only true requirement for a musician: that they never stop, that they always keep going. If they HAVE to do it, they'll keep doing it, and will continue to improve because of it. Thankfully, David Ell is already quite an accomplished musician, as well, with the skill to match his lofty ambitions.
He might just be U2, yet.
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