If you are wise in the ways of the current English pop punk scene you should be aware of the band Don Blake, a four piece based in Manchester who play their own brand of Ramones-core pop punk. They released their debut album Pocket Universe last year to much acclaim and it’s certainly worthy of any discerning pop punk fan’s attention. One thing you’ll quickly learn, if you’re ever fortunate enough to see Don Blake in person, is that they are extremely tight live, and one thing that makes this so is their drummer, he’s called Nigel.
Now out from behind the sticks, Nigel Barnes has released his own debut album The Clearing, a ten track offering that is a distinct departure from Don Blake’s rapid pop punk style. The album was recorded and mixed by Barnes with Manchester recording engineer Bob Cooper taking over mastering duties.
The album begins with ‘My Future Self’, a gorgeous slice of folk pop that begins with Barnes lamenting over an inviting acoustic intro that soon fleshes out into an extremely memorable piece of power pop. The track itself narrates a conversation that the present day Barnes is having with his future self, detailing the pit-falls of negative thinking and living each day expecting the worst. It is a cautionary tale with the future Barnes trying to offer some guidance to his present day persona: ”You’re always dwelling on the past that’s been and gone, and you keep on looking to the things that might go wrong”. It’s a great pop song and a terrific start to The Clearing!
Things get a little more punky on second and title track ‘The Clearing’, a song about life experiences, both good and bad, and how they can mould you into the person that you see looking back in the mirror. The song frustrates in the sense that it’s over just as it gets going, but if you are to find any negativity in this album’s write up then that’s the height of it!
Third track ‘Sun, Come Back’ is another acoustic track and is about that big black cloud that so many walk under: depression! Despite the difficult subject matter it is an optimistic song with Barnes self reassuringly stating: ” You know that you’re not alone and this feeling will go”. It is a well written track that truly unfurls after a few repeat listens!
As you make the journey through each track on The Clearing you find that proceedings never grow stale nor do they ever start to bore, at no time does a song allow itself to pass you by. Barnes is clearly adept at utilising various different musical styles to vessel his song-writing and stirring sense of melody. For so many different styles to form such a cohesively crafted album is an refreshing feat!
‘No Stars’, another track that starts off slowly then builds, this time with Barnes flexing his bluesy rock chops, has a chorus that will replay over in your consciousness for a good while; ‘Papercuts’, is a succulent acoustic ballad that comes complete with its own string section. Things even go a little bit ska on the excellent ‘Confessions Of A Scalliwag’.
From the ten songs that make up The Clearing, nine are originals with one being a cover of Regina Spektor’s ‘All The Rowboats’, from her 2012 album ”What We Saw From The Cheap Seats”, which Barnes more than does justice to! And while it may read like a random cover choice that might stick out from the rest, it actually nestles in quite comfortably amongst Barnes’ own songs; someone oblivious to Spektor’s work would be forgiven for assuming it another of Barnes’ own!
There is nothing quite like being taken aback by an album. The expectation was there to fully enjoy ‘The Clearing‘, but it was the extent to which the album’s songs wove their way into the brain fabric that was most striking! Every listen leaving a residual and reverberating yearn for another!
It is an album full of sorrow, balanced out with hope and recognition that positivity is sometimes all you’ll have to carry you to where you need to go, but you will get there, simply knowing that being half the battle! For this album to be Barnes’ debut is tricky to comprehend; as a body of work it is rich, fresh and full of moments of wonderful acoustic pop rock goodness!