Calum Stewart is the nephew of Andrew Stewart who are both from the UK and go by the name FAMILIAL. They recently had the chance to write and record music together for the first time in the summer of 2018. Their debut 1821 was recorded with Rod Jones (Idlewild), in the winter of 2018 at the Post Electric Studios in Edinburgh. Jones also mixed and mastered the EP for the duo. Although giving the listeners just a sampling of four songs, they plan on recording more in their studio very soon and are also gearing up to play live this summer. They couldn’t be more opposite in their approach to making music. Calum prefers to create his songs spontaneously, writing and recording inside the studio, while Andrew likes his solitude. He prefers to spend many months toiling over his songwriting and arranging each song carefully. I think what you’ll hear on 1821 is quite remarkable.
The duo gives a rundown as to what their four songs are all about – “A collection of four stories, each set from the point of view of different characters. ‘Piano Nostra’ is a driving, brooding love story; ‘Smile’ is a summer-tinged, relaxed dreamy sort of thing; ‘Old Nick - All That’s Left Is His Head’ is a story about a wild living hedonist; his awareness that life is spiraling out of control and his laughable, halfhearted attempts to buy salvation; and ‘1821’ is a tragic story based on historic truths about a murderous family during the industrial revolution.” All of this sounds pretty darn intriguing as someone who enjoys something that’s musically out of the ordinary.
“Piano Nostra” starts things off cool and collected with a style that’s smooth and warm. The arrangement of sounds and the overall structure of the song is quite unlike anything I’ve heard, or at least in a way that I haven’t heard in a long time. Michel Roddy makes a guest appearance here on his Fender Rhodes while India Stewart (Andrew Stewart's daughter) sings some stunningly beautiful backing vocals. “Smile” offers more of the brothers’ smooth, warm tones – big and luscious bass lines, cooling backing vocals and a light, easygoing style. At this point as far as band comparisons go, all I could think of were the lesser known piano songs by Tears for Fears, Joe Jackson and Spandau Ballet. Oddly enough, “Fool If You Think Is Over” by Chris Rea comes to mind, (a one-hit wonder from the late ‘70s). Funny how the mind recollects these things, isn’t it?
Anyway, moving onto “All That’s Left (Is His Head)” features a bit more of the standard song structure, although there are a few terrific added surprises. This one reminded me a little bit of XTC with a sprinkling of The Smiths. But in the end, it was all FAMILIAL. India Stewart did an animated film for this tune under the name: “Old Nick (All That’s Left Is His Head).” It can be found on YouTube and I highly recommend watching it. On “!821,” Rod Jones makes a guest appearance on the trumpet. This one starts off with an interesting drum rhythm, quieter singing and delicate piano playing. The chorus part sounds simply gorgeous and as the song develops more, layers and textures and drum fills jump in adding a more dynamic edge.
Sometimes a band comes along that turns my head and blows my mind. FAMILIAL’s 1821 is perhaps something I wouldn’t normally listen to on replay, but now, maybe I should. I’ll be keeping my eyes peeled for more on the other side of the Atlantic.
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