There are some musicians and bands who possess such uniquely distinctive styles or singing voices, they sound like no one else, making their music immediately identifiable as only theirs. London, England-based singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Art Block falls into this esteemed category on the strength of his affecting vocals that are so heartfelt and steeped in emotion, they have the power to take our breath away as we try and swallow the huge lump in our throats that forms after listening to him sing.
The brilliant and prolific artist creates a haunting brand of alternative folk, characterized by stirring melodies, captivating arrangements and gorgeous instrumentation built around his poetic, deeply moving lyrics. He’s been writing and recording beautiful music for nearly a decade, and has released an impressive amount of it since early 2015. I’ve previously written about him and his music four times on this blog, including his enchanting single “The Basement” (his most successful single, which has been streamed over 350,000 times on Spotify alone) in late 2019 and, most recently, last September when I reviewed his stunning White Horses EP. The title track “White Horses” went all the way to #1 on my Weekly Top 30 chart last December.
Art Block has stayed busy in 2023, dropping a single “Vilnius” in February, then his first full-length album Stones and Fire in March, followed by Tiger EP, the subject of today’s review, at the end of April. Featuring four tracks, including “Vilnius” and an alternate version of “White Horses”, the EP was produced, recorded and mixed by William Robertson and mastered by John Webber. For the recording, Art played all instruments except for drums, which were played by Raphael Bouchara.
The title track “Tiger” opens with a strummed acoustic guitar, accompanied by mysterious airy synths and sounds taken from the streets of Cairo as Art begins to sing, with a strong tremolo effect in his voice, “A plain heart that cuts through all the acerbic dust.” As the song unfolds, the melody gradually swells and instrumentals expand with beautiful guitars, heavier synths and more intense percussion, all of which culminate into a dramatic crescendo. Like the music, the lyrics become more forceful too, with Art Block passionately lamenting of his pain and sorrow over having been left abandoned in a relationship: “A silence that kills, insatiable rips my tongue. A tiger has ripped my lungs, unable to breathe. A figure of speech, crawling through arctic veins. You left me when I needed a friend. A quarrelsome mind, and we don’t see we’re spinning all around as if it’s meant to be.”
“Vilnius” was inspired by Art’s visit to the Lithuanian capital last October, where he engaged with the Chromatikon artist collective who participated in a series of concerts intended to revive the old Jewish music of the Vilnius ghetto lost during Nazi occupation. Vilnius holds a special place in his heart, as he spent a year there as a volunteer for Voluntary Service Overseas after Lithuania’s independence from the Soviet Union. The lyrics seem to be told from the perspective of a young Jewish man witnessing the fall of Vilnius and Lithuania to the Nazis: “A Hebrew song, an old man’s lungs. Hold on my Vilnius. I see a cage and hold my rage. Hold on my Vilnius. I was meant to be playing C. Oh what a scene. Wasn’t yet an orphan. We were meant to meet in the dying streets but I forgot your number.” Art’s delicate acoustic guitar notes, accompanied by sparkling atmospheric synths and gentle drumbeats, create a melancholy but beautiful soundscape for his emotive, heartfelt vocals.
“White Horses (Alternate version)” is the same version that appears on Stones and Fire, and to my ears sounds very close to the original. For this alternate version, Art’s added some pretty guitar notes and more drawn-out string synths, as well as a drum machine beat, all of which add subtle textures to the original piano-driven track, making it even more gorgeous than ever. He says the song “was inspired by a beautiful place in England, but also by the attack in Mariupol, Ukraine which was in the news, where I imagined I was going through the devastation there. Perhaps ‘White Horses’ is a metaphor for something else, greater, perhaps mystical or mysterious? The place I visited in England certainly had a mystical feel even though the White Horse itself etched into a hill was not ancient.”
The final track “New Dawn” is a haunting piano ballad about struggling with inner demons and self-doubt that keep him from living a fuller and happier life: “I want to know when life will change, so I can reach out for a new day. Tired of manifesting, tired of love, I have a hole in my heart oh my God. I was always fighting with my thoughts, trying to find peace amid the wars. I was overthinking life, I was overcome with strife.” Art’s echoed vocals have an interesting lo-fi feel, backed by a vintage-sounding piano and Raphael’s skillful measured drums.
Tiger EP is wonderful, serving up eleven and a half minutes of auditory bliss that transports us to dreamy, faraway places. Art Block is a uniquely gifted artist who never fails to deliver exceptional music that’s deeply impactful, sonically beautiful and intensely thought-provoking.
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