Tom Emlyn News From Nowhere
Beneath the paving stones, the beach - Situationist slogan.
Years in its gestation, News from Nowhere is a fascinating, captivating, absorbing record, which grabs you by the ears and by the brain, and lures down the caverns of time and place. In it, Tom Emlyn digs beneath the surface mundanities of everyday life, particularly those of Swansea life, below the decaying bricks and mortar and paving stones, to encounter the ghosts haunting below.
Tom describes this as very much a Swansea album [which] tries to capture the nature of the place - melancholic, mad, bacchanalian, rainy, surreal. His psycho-geographic explorations reveal that the News from Nowhere is partly the mixed past of our lovely ugly nowhere town, its heroes and villains, prettiness and shittiness, a history and a cast to whom this bittersweet love letter might well be addressed. But it's more universal too; the News from Nowhere is the imagination lurking beneath all our daily bored banalities; the creativity, loves, potentials, dreams and rebellions waiting to be discovered everywhere, if only we have time to dig.
William Morris would have approved.
It is no surprise that the lyrics so quickly engaged me; Tom, formerly a regular attendee at the much missed 'Live Poets' events in Swansea, has an unerring knack of turning up with an unexpectedly vivid phrased or metaphor that will jolt you, and make you think : a pier is just a bridge that goes nowhere (nowhere perhaps being the imagination again, of course). He names the Dylan dream duo, Thomas and Bob, as two key inspirations, and I recognise the narrator of the former's Return Journey, rummaging bemused around a much changed Swansea, in some of these lyrics. Like the factory girls in 'Empire', many of us may well hatch escape plans from the City, but the spirits of Swansea gently but relentlessly pull us back.
Just like the tunes here.
After just a few listens they are already old friends,
circling my brain like seagulls outside Dick Barton's chip shop. Tom
has an enviable skill at composing songs with a sweet sorrow, a happy
melancholy, a delightful regret, achieved through an inspired mix
of major and minor keys, unusual but satisfying chord progressions
and glorious use of melody, which then all swell up into epic and
massive choruses. He accomplishes this with apparent ease across a
variety of genres, the album featuring acoustic ballads, melodic punky
riots and even some jazz infused inflexions and noodling. It would
be mean to pick out favourites, but to fit into my the reviewer's
strait jacket I will mention just two.
Beaujolais Day is an incredible, dangerously infectious indie pop song, propelled by jaunty guitars and giant choruses, all masking themes of disillusionment and frustration. Then there's the powerful, urgent, drum driven and rather wonderful single 'Caught the Sun' which roars and rumbles along like a hook laden Inter City 125 heading from Swansea High Street to the bright lights of Paddington and beyond. Unsurprisingly, the lyrics are once again particularly striking, underlining Toms verbal dexterity, and his ability to communicate powerfully with words and music colliding creatively together.
Then of course there is stand out track 'Under the Street', which Tom quotes as an example of the psychogeographic exploration of Swansea and its ghosts, which potently and evocatively sums up all his feelings about his home town
And I also really love adventurous instrumental opener Ymerodraeth , its lack of lyrics suggesting that yes, you will need to dig a bit deeper to get the full import of this album, this empire, while shouting wordlessly that it is certainly an exploration worth doing.
And now, instead of just two tracks, I've described almost half the album! It's that sort of record, just like Swansea Bay - once you dare dip your toe in, you can't stop, despite (or perhaps because of) the unexpected undercurrents.
Apparently, Tom has several more albums of material stored up and ready to release, which is welcome news after this engaging debut. I'd also love to hear his own Return Journey, subsequent impressions on how the town has changed since he's been away, seeking his fortune in Cardiff.
This is a record to fall in love and get obsessed with over a sunny Swansea half term: I can't remember how many times a tune or lyric from it has floated unbidden into my head over the past week. I already visit it like an old friend, but one which still has something new to say.
An old friend deserving of a big audience.
Don't think twice, take my advice. Be part of that audience.
But, even 'if the audience disappears', I am sure Tom will continue to say it anyway.
For, to end at the beginning, with another situationist slogan, News from Nowhere demands All power to the imagination.
Tom plays Elysium in Swansea with Adam Walton, Fox Sleep and Daisy
Birch Jones on June 24th. Advance tickets here
Read our recent interview with Tom here