Max Bell has a hellhound on his trail.
Like the blues or funk, folk is a genre where the standards are often only redone well or redone with a twist. The Melodic haven’t reinvented the wheel yet, but they’re definitely forging their own finger plucking, soul-trembling path.
Hailing from the South London neighborhood of Brixton, The Melodic are only indebted to their influences insofar as a group can be when starting out. Comparisons to groups like Belle and Sebastian are there, but not so much that you’ll hit stop and go back to your copy of The Boy with the Arab Strap.
Though they’ve been recording in the UK since around 2010 — at least according to their song “Piece Me Back Together”— The Melodic only recently made their way to the states. They just wrapped a short residency at the Mint in L.A., and their first EP, On My Way (below the jump), dropped this summer on Anti- Records.
At four tracks, On My Way is over almost as soon as it begins, but the quintet don’t waste a minute. Each of the four tracks are rollicking, bouncy affairs that pack one poignant punch after another. They are superficially light and floating, but bear a reflective melancholy beneath the surface.
The Melodic are fantastic at balancing lyrical nostalgia with the uncertainty of the present, and the wide-eyed of promise of the future (“I find I’m drifting through time / Open new doors, still looking behind” – “Hold On”). Their songs are hopeful, yet vulnerable, and their lyrics, while definitely carefully crafted, lose none of their immediacy.
There’s plenty of traditional folk elements in each track on the EP, yet The Melodic are able to seamlessly weave afro-pop and Latin rhythms into their music, using uncommon instruments like the melodica — they may or may not have gotten their name from this key-flute type instrument — and the charango, an Andean string-instrument.
The title track (“On My Way”) is the group’s statement of intent, the sign of even better music to come. The melody Lydia Samuels plays on her melodica is infectious, and the strumming of the charango makes me wish there was one playing when I woke up this morning. Really, “On My Way” is the soundtrack to your post-grad road trip, the song coming out of the speakers of your Craigslist car with the iffy breaks and the busted convertible top as it careens over rolling hills in a backcountry where no one knows your name.
“Hold On” is one of the most affecting breakup songs I’ve heard of late. The song is deceptively bright at first, and then lyrics like “First thing you said was, ‘Take me’ / Last thing you said was, ‘Cast me away’” cut to the core, reopening scars you forgot you had. It’s the fond memory of the boy or the girl and the hole that remains now that they’re gone.
“The Roots” sounds like the “old-timey” music in O Brother Where Art Thou if mythical fairies fluttering through the English hinterlands took the place of the Soggy Bottom Boys. And, for some odd reason, I can’t help but think of Blind Melon’s “No Rain” when I hear how Williams and Samuels sing here.
Though Williams and Lydia Samuels’ aren’t mind-blowing singers, they work within their range well on every song. Their voices are great when harmonizing (“Roots”), but also sound good when going back and forth (“On My Way”). And, as is the case with the best folksingers, the seemingly self-taught nature of their delivery only heightens the level of intimacy for the listener.
With summer ending and fall around the corner, The Melodic might have made one of the best EP’s for bridging the gap. It’s an EP that says you’re are on your way forward but still holding onto your roots, hoping the feeling of freedom returns as days spent wasting away in the sun give way to those hunkered down inside and at work. It’s an EP from a group unclear about the future and reveling in that uncertainty.