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Tower Of Flints - Album Review: Live at Paisley Stage

12 Feb 2024 // A review by Nicholas Clark
The true proof that any band is worthy of praise is the live act. Recalling my own introduction to certain musicians, the quality of a live album would often be the deciding factor of whether I would continue to follow a band. KISS’ Alive, Hendrix’s Band of Gypsys, along with New Zealand’s own Shihad, have all offered various approaches to the live album tradition. While you can argue the validity and/or success of many, they all attempt to capture the excitement of a live show for the personal listener, without the shine afforded with a multi-tracked studio recording.

Tower of Flints has recently joined this tradition by releasing a live album, taken from what seems to be a marvelously balanced mix at Napier’s famous Paisley Stage - and no wonder it sounds so polished. Not only is the venue famous for its soft furnishings that dampen the noise of the space, but they are recorded by legendary owner and sound technician James Rochester. More importantly, Tower of Flints is a polished, professional act with a sound that calls to mind the tight, angular rhythms of Interpol, Echo and the Bunnymen and New Zealand’s influential but short-lived Nocturnal Projections. With guitars being either jangly and swirling or angular and brittle above a solid rhythm section, the band plays the kind of music that would suit a soundtrack with an unsettling premise, but with an ultimately uplifting plot twist.

The band begins with the attention-grabbing introduction of Moon, a cinematic sounding introduction for sure. Highly effected guitars sear an epic melody above a steady beat. “Do you remember what we used to be?” singer Joseph E. Harrison asks in a voice similar to Joy Division’s Ian Curtis.

Explain is the second song on the set, and it contrasts a little by sounding somewhat happier. Harrison returns to a soft, nearly seductive crooning voice and utters a question to begin the tune: “Am I not the one that hurt you till you’re numb?” Here we see another influence; The Smiths. It’s a well-known but effective formula to juxtapose sophisticated, major sounding melodies with thought-provoking confessional lyrics, these ones specifically seeming to revolve around admitting fault. It's a good recipe for any band to adopt, but Tower of Flints seems to have mastered the trick. “It’s your move now” he warns as the song comes to a close, but I can’t help thinking it could have lasted just a little longer. I really like the wistful, nostalgic mood the song established.

Dirty Footprints starts off with a hypnotic riff from bassist Jared King. Lush chords a la The Smiths wash over the riff to begin the song. Not soon after, by contrast, abrasive choppy chords cut the song up violently. The song builds, changing direction and mood but joined by that alluring bassline. “Dirty footprints stain the floor,” sings Harrison with warning, allowing the listener to only partially see the vignette he paints with his lyrics. “I thought these scars would heal... I’m only human after all.” Then, the mood changes with the lyrics “I’m a lucky man,” and the song unfolds into something hopeful. A few interesting chromatic notes later disrupt the major/minor transitions and we’re taken into a rockin’, heartfelt blues solo. Clearly this song has some deep emotional intensity to unpack. Then, before I know it, the song has finished with a tidy drum fill from Corey Wilkinson.

I really get drawn into the descending chords of Blameless. There’s a sinister element alluded here with lyrics that include: “I cannot tell you what I’ve done, I guess you’ll find out when the headlines come”. The band sounds really tight on this number. Harrison croons “I cannot tell you what I’ve said, My words will live on long after I am dead”. The music suits the mood, which is one of unsettling excitement brooding, while he tries to justify something he can’t quite admit.

They Came From Nowhere features a nice, punctuated beat and dual vocals from fellow guitarist Neil Beales. The effectiveness here is the band leaving gaps to really accentuate the words such as “All my deepest fears will amount to nothing”, and the chorus: “No I don’t recognize these darkest dreams of mine - they came from nowhere.” This song is dark like many of the others, but there’s a real shine of danger on this one. There’s a fantastic ending with the band playing around the vocals that showcases the tightness of the band.

Need To Know starts off with an inventive little riff, (great playing from Wilkinson here), and some arpeggiated chords that really shine. This song is a little more melancholic and reminds me of earlier songs from the set – perhaps they weren’t played together as they seem too similar if they were adjacent. Harrison sings with emotion here, singing more of his lyrics that seem to tackle adult issues: “Ten years on ... oh no, you're not someone I used to know ... you seem to want something more from me.” The song lyrics certainly match the vibe established on this one, rather than juxtaposing major melody with dark themes. There’s a sad tone here, almost melodramatic perhaps, with even a hint of authentic, adult awkwardness and frustration inspiring the note choice (if that makes any sense). There’s a little bit more pluck and bounce to this song than previous ones, but I can’t imagine people racing to the dance floor with these lyrics either – but I could be wrong.

The band then considers ending the set but are encouraged to continue with one more. There’s a little on-stage banter which is nice to hear from a band who has hitherto not shown much humour. Harrison asks, ‘What key is it in?’ and then ‘I’m going to pretend I know it!’ before they launch into the album’s final song, Make It Mine, a song I can’t believe they nearly didn’t perform. It’s a rock song, for sure, but brittle and jumpy like post-punk should be. The song is complex with a few tight corners, and Harrison hits us with these strange words that hint at fractured memories and unspoken words between friends or perhaps lovers: “Came in from the cold, how was I supposed to know ... you took your time, drifting in like smoke.” It’s the kind of dense imagery you’d imagine from poetry rather than a contemporary rock band of New Zealand. The chorus here is like changing a gear. “We could deconstruct the myths of my youth ... but now my bones are showing through,” sings Harrison with vigour and passion. There’s a tasteful phaser effect on a guitar fill, and some accented parts that sound as if they are really fun for the drummer and band to perform. The song ends and Harrison jokes with the appreciative crowd, ‘That’s all you get!’

So, what to make of Tower of Flints and their live album? In one way, there’s a lot of range. Baby, You Lied and Missing Words offers a folk element with gentle strumming, in contrast to Fake Noose which is perhaps the heaviest song on the album. The songs rarely remain in one temper; they shift and transform over the course of their performance. However, the overall emotions established here are the same across all songs – tales of lost love, frustration, hints at acts of violence shrouded in mystery and metaphor. Harrison sings about adult life, years passing by friendships and misunderstood motives between people as we travel through unsure waters together. It's the kind of complex music that you can’t help but feel a connection with, (especially perhaps someone of similar age). These songs are not about partying, nor really about self-empowerment like you might find from musicians younger than them. If anything, they tackle guilt, anger and sadness. “Did my face reflect my mood?” Harrison asks needlessly, for his music is brimming with the emotion, deliberately and artfully restrained in the best way possible to make the songs seem to nearly burst with withheld energy. There’s a nervousness in these notes, played well by accomplished musicians. There’s little playfulness or humour here, nor should there be. The themes are mature and sobering for the most part, but there is some cathartic element in hearing the band wallop through their louder moments as if the performance is a kind of therapy. Listeners travel these strange depths with the band, navigating life’s unexpected turns. Complex music for complex times. Give it a listen and let your mind wander.

 

About Tower Of Flints

Tower Of Flints began as the working title for a solo project of Joseph E Harrison (formerly lead singer of Brave New Void), a Wellington-based musician and songwriter. In early 2018, he was joined by Neil Beales (guitar), and more recently, Corey Wilkinson (drums) and Jared King (bass).

Described by some as indie rock and others as post-punk, Tower Of Flints have a distinctive sound that is all their own - guaranteed to please the ears of anyone into well-crafted rock/pop songs with dark, ambiguous lyrics and loud, jangly guitars!

In addition to their work as Tower of Flints, both Joseph and Neil have released solo work, much of which is performed with TOF, and can be found online, on all platforms.

Visit the muzic.net.nz Profile for Tower Of Flints

Releases

Live At Paisley Stage
Year: 2024
Type: Album

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