Aaron Shanley releases a collection of demos ahead of a proposed 2014 album
It’s been almost 18 months since singer-songwriter Aaron Shanley released new material. Currently in the studio recording new music for release in 2014, he has decided to bridge the gap between albums by releasing a selection of home demos that he has been working on over the past few months.
Whittled down from around 100 songs, the nine-track Bedroom Tapes: Swiss Cottage Teal Roses showcases an artist growing in both confidence and musical ability, but still in thrall to his musical heroes.
The 23-year-old from Lisburn – who won the Katherine Brick Young Songwriter of the Year Award in 2010 and the Best Male Award at the Access to Music Awards at Birmingham's O2 Academy in December of the same year – makes no secret of his love of Americana music.
He has cited artists such as Gram Parsons, Townes Van Zandt and Ryan (not Bryan) Adams as key influences. And it’s the latter whose shadow looms large over Bedroom Tapes. Themes of heartbreak mixed with wistful memories of lost love are threaded throughout the album, from delicate opener 'She’s So Easy To Hold' through to the worn out reminiscences of closer '5th Ave'.
Musically, Shanley’s deceptively simple melodies and delicate vocals are borne along by piano, rhythm guitar and occasional banjo. The mood throughout is downbeat, though not defeatist, with the singer looking back on relationships gone wrong and sharing memories that he finds difficult to let go of. Each song seems to approach the affair from a different angle, looking for chinks of light in the darkness.
Although these songs are demos, they are perfectly realised pieces of music. Adding additional instruments, or putting a studio ‘sheen’ on them would destroy their intimacy. The simple piano and guitar chords of 'She’s So Easy To Hold' would not be so stark and effective on a denser production, for example.
'Trouble' seems, on the surface, a more positive song. Over strummed banjo and guitar, the singer promises to strike out on the open road and leave the past behind. He tells his woman not to miss him because he won’t miss her. But he is only on the road 'to lose what’s left of my mind'. Here the open road promises annihilation, not freedom.
'I Hope So, Laura' is a dark and delicate thing of beauty. It’s heartbreaking in its honesty, and the hesitant piano chords echo Shanley's emotions as he struggles to reconcile himself to the loss of his love to another. 'I can’t help but wonder are they better, are they stronger? Are they less f*cked up than I was when you loved me? I hope so Laura.' At just a little over three-minutes long, it’s a jewel of a song destined to be treasured by those who hear it.
'Skyline of Matchsticks' and 'Cherry Vale' continue the theme of looking back. In the first, Shanley admits that 'unfortunately you’re everything I need', whilst the latter imagines a reunion in a bar that the nameless lovers once drank in.
'Be Honest For Once' and 'Until the Truth Falls Out' introduce anger and bitterness to the lovelorn equation, the latter especially stark in its production and delivery, whilst 'Dear No One' veers into self-pity. 'It hurts to hold you in my mind, and it hurts to know you’ll never be mine' sings Shanley, the heavy strumming of his guitar pregnant with pent up emotion.
Album closer '5th Ave.' finds our protagonist adrift in New York, missing home, his friends and – most of all – his lost love. A beautifully bereft piano figure carries the tune, and Shanley’s voice here sounds as lost and alone as his heart.
Bedroom Tapes: Swiss Cottage Teal Roses is a wonderful record, and as a stop-gap release it more than makes up for the silence of the past 18 months. Its only problem is that if a stranger heard this record without knowing who it was by, they could easily mistake it for a Ryan Adams recording. Even the song titles bear the mark of the maverick but brilliant American.
This is both a testament to the strength of Shanley’s talent but also a warning that sticking too close to one’s formative influences may be a hindrance in the long run. Here’s hoping that in 2014 this talented young man finds the words and music to break free of the past and set off on his own brilliant future.
Bedroom Tapes: Swiss Cottage Teal Roses is available as a free/pay what you want download via Bandcamp now.