Thursday, June 20 2024

Actve Captve, from Austin Texas are an absolute gem of a band. Their heady blend of ’80s infused power-pop, combine captivating harmonies, driving rhythms and enough synth and guitar hooks to slake the thirst of even the most ardent of rock fans. Think Starship, meets The 1975 and you’re in the general vicinity.  ‘Ellis Island,’ was originally on their debut EP ‘Saudaze.’ It was big, anthemic and incredibly well produced. Please go onto their Soundcloud page and check it out. Even if it’s only for reference purposes, but I swear you’ll love it; a triumphant, uplifting ode to escapism, abandoning that “Dead Weight” and embracing ‘the new.’

This live, ‘acoustic’ version, hits different. Things often have a different resonance once all the ‘bells and whistles’ are stripped back and we see them in a more pure, vulnerable guise. More reflective. More melancholy; but still carrying the same resilience. Ellis Island stands as asymbolic symbol of optimism and uncertainty for those seeking life anew in the ‘New World’ and this is reflected metaphorically within the stirring narrative. “Washed up on the shores of Ellis Island. Gasping for air and smiling with all the dead weight that I left behind,” the chorus perfectly balances the juxtaposition between the fear of the unknown and the realisation that by conquering our fears we can truly attain a level of freedom. It’s a message of empowerment, beautifully and soulfully delivered.

At its very core this is a lovelorn ballad, but a nuanced and pragmatic one at that. What this version allows is an intimate insight into what drives the piece; that being Justin Han’s narrative. We’re able to wholeheartedly commit, invest and immerse ourselves within that narrative; and, ultimately, that connection is all the more poignant.

‘Ellis Island’ is a superb song. I love the original and this version holds up favourably. The harmonies are tight; there’s fantastic balance between male and female voices and good melodic contour throughout. There is a trade-off, however; the sheer power and determination of the original with its chugging guitars, cutting synths and powerful mid-alto female voice driven bridges, is sacrificed for a smooth and understated delivery. 

Dependent upon your preferences, this will either be a plus or a negative. The reality is they’re two sides to the same coin and what it does showcase is the bands versatility. It is a near perfect re-imagining of a fantastic song. They have taken a power-pop ballad and created a soulful, folk-infused anthem, that is both engaging and emotive. 

For a live version the production is incredibly robust. There is good balance between guitar and vocal and the synth is underpinning everything, used as a more atmospheric embellishment. The piece isn’t hindered in any way by the lack of percussive elements due to the full, bouncy, strummed acoustic guitar keeping a constant, unrelenting vigil throughout.

Structurally, the song develops into a rondo structure in its second half, but is more ternary within its opening exchanges; leaning heavily upon the chorus initially and chorus-bridge latterly. This expands both narrative and musical elements to very good effect and some subtle dynamic changes maintain interest throughout. Simply put; it’s good song-writing and should be lauded as such. 

‘Ellis Island’ shows us that a song can work brilliantly well in its original form and gain new life once stripped back. It’s superbly crafted and effortlessly delivered by a band of huge potential.

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About Author

Gareth Johnston

Gareth Johnston is a Lancashire based musician and producer who studied music at MMU. He is a former reviewer for 'Glitzine' and when not writing for 'The Indie Grid' can be found restoring old furniture whilst listening to obscure alt-rock. He has too many favourite bands to pick one and insists it's easier to pick a favourite child.

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