The piano. Vessel of the sonic seas; one of the greatest of the instruments – pristine, smooth, elegant. Capable of providing any mood, atmosphere and tone. I really do love the piano – particularly in gritty, filthy applications choked up with vapour and smog.
Working grit into its presentation is often overlooked, but it’s really what, in my mind, proves the sheer capability and versatility of the instrument’s presence in music. An elegant, sleek, black structure of mahogany can be turned into a punky, bluesy, rock and roll machine with a bit of talent, patience and skill…
. ..And today’s album manages that with startling style.
Tensheds are the brainchild of Matt Millership – a man armed with a Collard & Collard Piano (1835 vintage; the antique enthusiast within me is already foaming at the chops) and a willingness to effectively push the boundaries of it to its limits. Everything here – except for the permitted exceptions of harmonica, drums and some dandy glockenspiel for local flavour – has been played, recorded and pedalled out of the Victorian construct. No digital witchcraft is at hand; just some excellent musicmanship, some pedals and amps.
Big promises. How does it deliver?
For your intrepid author, The Dandy Punk Prince is a bit of a hallmark – this is the first albums (and we do receive upwards of 120 a week, mind) to blow me away in quite some time.
From end to end, a beautiful series of tracks ranging from the haggard and filthy to the smooth and crooning is lined up for the listener’s pleasure – each one feels like it’s peered over with a fine toothcomb, a work of perfectionism – perhaps bordering on obsession. The vision of the record really does stand firm; the sheer technical skill on hand is sublime, with layer upon layer of hammers hitting well-worn strings, really building a technical landscape.
In our single review of Tenshed’s Milktrain, we referred to it as uniquely British blues flavour, and I feel like that’s only proven, if not exemplified, by the rest of the record. It’s not through Anglicised tropes, but in atmosphere – no matter how hard I try (and regular readers will know how obsessive I am of ‘seeing’ records) I cannot conjure up the predictable landscapes typically affiliated with husky lyrics and harmonica. It feels so smoky, sooty and becobbled that I can’t not imagine Northern, Victorian Industry choking the sky behind. Perhaps it’s in the antique piano’s makeup, perhaps it’s the intentional aims of the record, or perhaps it’s simply a ghostly presence deep in the album’s repertoire – but this feels so confidently British and industrial that it could be the soundtrack to Brunel himself.
While Milktrain is my favourite on the record, there’s a selection of equally delightful treats on order. Shooting Myself is a particularly impressive introduction the album’s mission – unbelievable piano work, a fair tempo but melancholy, whiskey-fuelled tone. WAR is a particularly atmospheric, ghostly and evocative piece; ghostly backing vocals and glockenspiel taking a lot of the centre stage. Running low, slowly and with a very obvious belief in its peace-loving poetry. Doghouse catches my attention with its immensely catchy rhythm and quickly ear-worming lyrics. (I’m in the doghouse baby, I got three strings on my guitar…) The entire album carries such a marvellous, rough swagger – sod your typical steampunk label; if there were punks in the Victorian age they’d be listening to stuff like this. Pop it all into a time machine, and here we are.
It takes one thing to play well – it’s entirely enough to master it. Tensheds are truly masters of their trade. It’s rather astounding as to the real achievement here; the complexity of the task they had at hand is easy to understate. Especially when it’s been pulled off so flawlessly.
We can’t recommend this one highly enough. It’s a fascinating, industrial, bluesy piano that promises to challenge the listener, provides a ton of variety, and works in some really inventive production to boot. Easily the best album I’ve heard this year that was recorded in a living room…
Check it out – you won’t regret it.