Friday, April 19 2024

James Longcake is a very interesting character; born into a musical family, multi-instrumentalist, classical composer, film score writer, award-winning graduate of the University of Sussex, audio engineer, producer, genre-bending/fusing artiste in his own right.  It’s an impressive resumé and one which has seen James further his musical repertoire in a jazz fusion project and an acoustic trio. I even heard that when he snores it’s syncopated, and he blinks in 17/8. His latest offering is a 3-hour Mongolian Throat Singing odyssey based on Genghis Khan’s campaign against the Tatars in 1196. On first listen, the sheer intensity and versatility of James’s voice, and mastery of the Khoomei is incandescent…

…there may have been a little artistic license applied to the opening paragraph. ‘Painted Nails’, is taken from James Longcake’s first EP, ‘James Longcake 1.’ Still, it makes for less time head scratching for the follow-up and worked OK for Led Zeppelin so, tally-ho. It’s a pulsating fusion of pop, funk, acid jazz and hip-hop and demonstrates a highly attuned sense of the varying tropes from each genre. He uses all to good effect. It’s a compelling mix of L.T.J. Sound Machine, Thomas Dolby and Jamie T. As one would expect the groove is tightly wound and the bassline verging on obscenely good. The verse structure, both lyrically and musically gives an anecdotal sense of place and resolves beautifully. This seems to be emphasised by use of an underlying staccato guitar on the first half of the verse and latterly the use of a freer, looser, strummed funk guitar. In fact, this is reminiscent, to faster iteration of the opening progression from ‘It Ain’t Over, ‘Til It’s Over’, by Lenny Kravitz.  

James Longcake

The chorus is catchy and elevates the piece just enough, with good use of vocal layering, great melodic contour and superb bass and rhythm guitar parts. I do have one small problem with the chorus and I am being pedantic; the distorted guitar track, for me, detracts from the hypnotic sing-along melody. Initially it sits well, but some of the lead accenting interferes with the clarity of the vocal and when we’re trying to establish something repetitive, something to bury into the listeners limbic system, it’s just too much to process.   

As if to make up for this sensory overload the second verse starts with soothing keys, bass and vocals. There’s a sense of resignation to James’ voice which is reflected in the descending chord progression. However, cometh the funk, cometh the positive vibes and the piece lifts for the second half of the verse, “… Live a life that’s full and free. Don’t listen to all the noise of all those girls and boys.” Layered saxophone, ably provided by brother David – no, it’s not nepotism, he’s bloody good! – is introduced in the bar proceeding the final chorus and played throughout its first half. This is mixed exceptionally well and finally allows the chorus to be sufficiently honoured. The latter half of the chorus gives way to James’ jazz/blues influenced lead break, with a few dissonant motifs thrown in for good measure.

At its heart this is a binary structure made interesting by pauses in all the right places. These dynamic shifts give the illusion of something bigger, but enable the proceeding sections to have more impact. Simple, but very effective. ‘Painted Nails’, is a fun and engaging piece that maintains interest throughout. It features a good mix of hooks, flourishes and solid melody lines. The overall mix has wonderful balance and clarity (for me, aside from 1st chorus lead) and the instrumentation is, by and large, perfect for the piece.  

It’s clear that James’ is an exceptionally talented musician and good songwriter and I believe we’re yet to hear the best of him. There are some very good moments throughout his debut EP; ‘Speed Queen’ and ‘Sweetest Blues’ showcase his vocal range well and the lead break in the former show his chops as a guitarist. Everything is there and the potential is ridiculous, but the problem be with so many influences and so many other interests and projects, will we ever see a fully formed and realised version of James Longcake the indie rock artist?  I really hope so.

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Review

Summary

This tight acid jazz / funk / pop fusion has all the hallmarks of ‘earworm’ material. ‘Painted Nails’, is a fun and engaging piece that maintains interest throughout.
86%
A Funktacular Fun Song

Rating

Song Quality
Vocal Performance
Lyrics
Instrumentation
Production

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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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