It’s always a treat listening to a unique singer. I was listening to the first song off the album Vortex from The Banquet Years and thought the singer sounded like the ghost of Tom Waits. He doesn’t always sound like he does on the first song but he does occasionally. The Banquet Years is made up of Mark Watt who plays bass, synth, drum machine and more while Arthur Schipper writes the songs, sings and plays guitar.
I dig what these guys are doing but I have to admit the dismal recording quality took away from the experience. Each song seemed to have its own individual issues, which could have been cleaned up. For instance, “Only Girls” contains obnoxious high pitched frequencies and is louder than most of the other songs while a muddy low end could have used some scoping on “Keep Talkin’.” Suffice it to say I hope next time around their songs get properly treated.
All things considered this was an enjoyably sloppy album. I could get down with the spirit in which these songs were delivered and thought the lyrics were clever and unique. The opener “Timbuktu” is one of the stronger songs on the album. It starts with a simple, subdued bass line that gets layered with soft guitars and tom drums. He sings, “Davey and Arthur went to Macy's They talked about women and their lives. Their hearts were ready for solitude, But frantic were their lives. So they started the Wives.” The lyrics are descriptive yet prolific and reminded me of the Henry Thoreau quote “Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them.”
“In Dreams My Heart Will Remain” rocks in a Neutral Milk Hotel sort of way. The band finds some inspired moments like the one right before the one-minute mark. One of the other highlights was “Keep Talkin’.” Schipper sounds like a drunk Tom Waits or Bruce Springsteen or maybe just a combination of the two. Either way I liked it. The lyrics are pretty depressing as he sings, “That the demons who have taken me to a place I can't remain, That the demon who has followed me, will take me to my grave.” Cast thy evil aside.
The duo breaks out an acoustic guitar and organ on “Fall From Grace with the Sea.” It’s another solid song and a testament to the fact that the duo can write good lyrics. He tickles topics such as personal perseverance, self-pity and doubt through ambiguity and prose.
Overall, Vortex is far from perfect but a worthy ride. If the duo can tighten up the recording quality and push their writing abilities even further they can compete with some of the acts within the upper echelon of music.
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