Written by Kai Feltham
As the repertoire of technological possibilities for the individual casual listener continues to expand by the day, even the most established bands and artists have been forced to wrack their brains for new methods of keeping audiences interested. With online leaks growing ever more prominent, the theatre of awaiting a scheduled album release to the most casual of listeners, appears lost. In response the likes of Kendrick Lamar, Drake, Frank Ocean, and many others have reached deep into their war chest of creative marketing and stumbled upon the art of surprise releases. A surprise release is one thing, but a surprise BAND is surely impossible in our modern, wall-to-wall amateur paparazzi social media lead world? This week however saw such an assumption proven incorrect, with the reveal of A Blaze of Feather, and the release of their debut record inventively titled EP 1.
Hailing from Cornwall, A Blaze of Feather have initiated Chinese whispers and avid speculation over the past couple of months over their true identity having been awarded notable listings on the bills of Latitude Festival and Citadel Festival, without any public musical content to their name. Signed to acoustic and production genius Ben Howard’s record label ‘Hell Up Records’ gave the amateur detectives amongst us a hint towards their identity before this week’s reveal. Essentially, A Blaze of Feather is a refresh of Ben Howard’s longstanding touring band, featuring the lead vocals and guitar of Mickey Smith, India Bourne, Nat Wason, Rich Thomas, Kyle Keegan and Ben Howard himself, taking a supporting role in the band. Recording and performing songs written by Howard’s long term collaborator and fellow artist Mickey Smith, A Blaze of Feather are as atmospherically mysterious in their musical output as their release and discreet online presence would assume. Smith himself takes a leading role in the band, adding to his impressive yet relatively unknown artistic output; creating all of their artwork and photography himself. With under 2,000 followers on Twitter, A Blaze of Feather have fallen intentionally under the radar, but any fans of Ben Howard’s latest record I Forget Where We Were are highly recommended to immerse themselves in their mysterious, swirling soundscapes on EP 1.
The music itself strikes a fine balance between being misty and obscure and artistically magnificent. As folk driven acoustic noodles intertwine with instrumentally layered ethereal soundscapes, it is clear that the talents of Ben Howard and his long-term bandmates have found a new canvas to draw upon. Led by multi-platform artist Mickey Smith, Winter opens EP 1, with swirling clouds of dark synths and strings quietly building before beckoning in choral vocals and percussion. As idyllically as the music builds, it evenly drifts away, Smith and Howard’s combined vocals left floating away before fading into the EP’s primary single, Carousel. Dreamlike soundscapes combine with the instantly recognisable electric guitar pluckings of Howard’s work, Smith singing that “Sorry is a word I fail to say.” Carousel carries the catchier refrains to be found on the EP in its chorus, yet still drifts in and out like a feather in the sea breeze, Smith and Howard’s joint vocals interspersed with brief solo stints from vocalist and strings player India Bourne.
The remainder of EP 1 follows a similarly atmospheric formula, its tracks in the form of Shelter, Bold, Death and Freagh floating harmlessly through the air. Bold in particular is so intensely and meticulously layered that its combination of strings, electronic textures and choral work develop as if they were recorded in a church hall, or an enclosed cave. No distinct lyrics can be made out to the untrained ear, Smith’s vocal instead skilfully used as an instrument in its own right to add another intriguing layer to the track. Closing track Freagh carries the most obvious nod towards the folk and country acoustic genre, its airy atmosphere combining with acoustic guitar, strings and further electronic soundscapes. As a closing track it is perfect, evaporating slowly outwards, as if drifting off to sea or floating harmlessly into the ether. Freagh, much like the rest of EP 1, would be equally at home played within the ancient walls of a cathedral as it would nestled around a cosy campfire. This, along with the dreamy atmosphere created on EP 1, is a testament to the impressive artistic talents of Mickey Smith and the rest of A Blaze of Feather.
Whilst Ben Howard is the recognisable name within the unrecognisable band, their debut release is most certainly a collective creation, and one that deserves great praise. Equally suited to loud plays whilst relaxing in the sun as it would be engulfing one’s earphones whilst walking in the dark; EP 1 gives a short introduction to A Blaze of Feather, but one that certainly delivers upon its arty promise.
Listen to EP 1 on Spotify here.
And check out a short ‘making of’ clip here, the only addition to A Blaze of Feather’s social media presence:
Credit: A Blaze Of Feather
A Blaze of Feather will be performing at Citadel Festival, Latitude Festival and Boardmasters over the Summer, so if you are already heading there then be sure to check them out.