William Gray is an independent musician hailing from the UK, but he has been living and working in Hangzhou, China for a number of years. Gray is a veteran songwriter who has released five consecutive albums of his own music since 2009, including a BBC radio session. Following his 2013 album, ‘Wensan Road’, William Gray is now set to release his new 5 song EP entitled, ‘Tish’ online this coming April Fools’ Day. In contrast to last year’s album release, Gray pushes the envelope that bit further while trapezing on the cusp of the singer-songwriter realm.
‘Tish’ seems to deviate joyfully from the beaten trail and reveals another side to a dynamic artist whose musical pallet is charismatic, daring and witty in its articulation. On my first listen to ‘Tish’, I immediately connected with the clean guitar sound that seems to hark back to the 1960’s Jazzmaster instrumentals of The Shadows, touching ever so slightly on surfer rock with its subtle echo, big reverb and delay effects.
Throughout the EP, Gray’s production lends itself to a thicker sounding rhythm section than that of its predecessor; intertwining beautifully in places while the vocals take the forefront. The opening song, ‘La La Land Awaits You In The End’ is a brazen head-bopper in bed with a quirky ballad, where curious rhythms ascend and descend in lively punctuation. Most striking are Gray’s lyrics that are sympathetic, yet counterbalanced by the satire he finds in his ambitious pet-peeves; transporting me on an entirely new journey of discovery throughout the EP into Gray’s world of wit and cynicism. He opens with an offering of escapism in La la land, he flirts with a dreamy sense of comfort, but then unsheathes a monologue debating his uncertain political stance against ‘an asshole’; who he is actually impartial to and goes on to wholeheartedly welcome this foe to join him in la la land…’Despite the fact that you’re an asshole, you’re still welcome here in la la land too’.
Musically, the most interesting thing here is Gray’s non-linear approach to the arrangement of his songs. Rather than chasing a pivot-point or generic verse-chorus-verse template for any particular song, he goes from strength to strength with his unique storytelling while carefully defining the melodic gestures of each instrument. Check out the concise delivery and clarity of the instruments on ‘I’m More Worried About You Rob’. Even in the rhythmic stanzas, you’ll find a playfulness that flickers with snare taps, syncopated guitar licks, peppy descending bass lines that bounce with carefree jest, while synths add a peculiar zest and dimension in parallel with the guitar. These gestures are splendidly contrasted in his lyrics with an innocent and sometimes unsophisticated insult, ‘You’re screaming at me cos I’m different to you, in that I’m using my brain’. One of the most fascinating elements is Gray’s use of political innuendo. In these first two songs, he touches on , ‘Lefty/Liberalism’, ‘Militant Islam’ and the ‘Right-wing Media’. Using the pseudonyms ‘La la Land’ and ‘Rob’ he creates a clever subplot that allows him the space to maneuver around delicate topics in the notoriously sensitive environment that he now finds himself.
Brief samples sit perfectly and give the ‘retro’ a modern touch despite enduring the torment of a baby wailing. He employs the use of a fuzz effect with a wirey-sounding synth that fuses sublimely with the heart-piercing blues licks of, ‘Never Saw It Coming’. This song finds Gray excusing himself for his heated reaction to a difficult situation he has found himself in; but could easily be seen as his way of dealing with the villain in ‘Tish’s first two songs. On ‘My Side of The City’ Gray’s title refrain could well have been written by Davy Jones of The Monkees. It is upbeat and funky with a laid-back disposition until Gray pulls a seriously ripping guitar solo…twice! Like a knife-wielding maniac going straight for the jugular it is rusty and violent in its execution. It points nowhere near pretentious and is a visceral component of the music that taps into the core of his lyrics painted with a black urbanite humour – the highlight of the EP for sure! Packed with images depicting urban deconstruction and possibly some elements of post-communist China, he says, ‘On this side of the city, the air is quite appalling…the architecture’s boring’…’my friend woke up to find his car had been thieved, crashed and written off by an apprentice thief’. William Gray’s songwriting is at its best, as he plays with social decline, urban sub-culture and an inexhaustible humour throughout.
‘The Visitor’ brings the ‘Tish’ EP to an end in a similar uptempo vein to ‘My Side…’. A finely greased rhythm shuffles beneath the twitching guitar and compliments the very unrockstar-like reality of the lyrics. Gray pulls no cartwheels as he makes a self-mockery of his ‘plight’ as a stay-at-home dad. Again, it’s optimistic with a lighthearted groove. His craft is again proven delightful as he puns, ‘He can’t even support himself, hits the bottle as soon as he wakes’, and hilariously adding, ‘relieves himself on me…’ The EP twangs its final chord and fizzles out. Like anyone who has ever ‘enjoyed’ raising a child will know; the labour, exhaustion and torment are perpetually rewarding, as I’m sure will be the fruits of this joyous EP release by William Gray worth every minute of your time.
‘Tish’ will be out on Medic Records in China this April 1st 2015.
Check out his bandcamp page here – http://www.williamgray.bandcamp.com