New to the scene, though experienced musicians and unique in their sound, Sons of the East are a singer/songwriter collective from Sydney, Australia. Despite a limited discography, the group have garnered critical acclaim for their sonic diversity and unexampled position in a scene that might be considered to be over saturated.
Spotify is a beautiful thing. Why? Because you get to explore uncharted musical territory with the help of long, extended playlists, radio stations, and friends. On that right side bar, you can see what your friends are listening to while you are logged in. In the seven months of having Spotify, I have scouted lots of new music from seeing what my friends are listening to (this is how I ended up first listening to Volumes). Through back doors, friend’s profiles (yes, I admit to creeping) and related artists. I’ll be honest, the album cover initially drew me to this band without even listening to the music. I believe that album artwork is much like a first impression when someone first meets you. Science says that literally within a couple of seconds you decide whether you like someone or not. I feel like the same rule can be applied to music when you browse through albums and gaze at the covers. You make a snap judgment. When I got past the cover and began to sift through the songs on this self titled EP, I found myself enjoying this release.
This EP starts off with Miramere – a catchy song with a medium tempo and a kick drum driving bounce. It’s a nice way to start out with a feel good track that makes you want to nod your head a little bit. The style of picking is pretty traditional for this kind of singer/songwriter and folk music, so there isn’t anything particularly fresh in this track that I haven’t heard from similar artists like Peter Bradley Adams.
Moving onto the next track takes this whole EP in a totally different direction that really gives a pulse and identity to this group. Come Away starts out with a simple chord progression with a tempo and aura reminiscent of artists like Gregory Alan Isakov (one of my all time favorites) that has a delicate piano line layered on top, a beautiful sounding harmonica, an accompanying banjo, and very soft Bob Dylan like vocals from Nic Johnston. Ending this record is California, another sunshine-y day anthem with a bouncing chord progression that stays in a higher key, along with an accompanying banjo. On the topic of instrumental diversity, this song actually has a didgeridoo in the chorus, which is something I had never heard a singer/songwriter group do up until this point.
Sons Of the East has been praised for exploring the realm of folk music and integrating their own Australian culture into this EP. While I appreciate the novelty of certain instruments used, I don’t think this group incorporates anything groundbreaking that hasn’t been done by bands like Margaret and the Nuclear So and So’s. I think the singer/songwriter genre is a little oversaturated with recycled styles, hooks, and guitars. When someone or a group strives to reach farther to create a more comprehensive sound, then they have made at least a half decent effort in my book. Often times, I have seen some of the same influences come through in many artists in this genre that include legends like Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, and Eric Clapton. Sons of the East are no exception. On Come Away and California, you can hear Nic Johnston channel his inner Bob Dylan with soft-spoken and denunciated vocals. In addition, I would consider Sons understudies of Mumford and Sons with the way hat throughout this EP you can hear a lot of harmonies from the other two members behind Johnston.
If I had to pick a genre of music armed with the most shrewd lyricism, it’s singer/songwriter. Themes range from introspective narratives, relationships, nature, love, and abstract storytelling. Sons Of the East stick to many of those traditional topics. Perhaps the strongest lyrics that paint a vivid picture of familial estrangement are on Hold On, with a simple, repeated chorus and striking verses. Come Away, as inferred from the title, tells a tale about young love that can feel relative when we think about those closest to us.
Singer/songwriter is a genre that usually sounds better very uncut, unplugged, and minimal on cleanliness to preserve its authenticity behind the artist. It feels like such a nice change in pace when I hear a lot of grandiose production in pop, rock, hip-hop, and metal. It’s very fitting for this genre and this EP sounds well balanced between the guitar, piano, and banjo. I actually like how the harmonica takes the driver seat in songs like Come Away rather than it remaining on the same wavelength of all the other instruments. Even the didgeridoo in California is tastefully done. The way that this album is composed and packaged gives a very warm and calming vibe that is easy on the ears and ideal with a scenic view and a cup of coffee.
I am a sucker for good singer/songwriter music. It’s relaxing, peaceful, and often times is packed with nostalgic qualities that hit me with a crowbar when I listen to it. Sons Of the East join the ranks of artists who do that for me with a solid release. Though the incorporation of cultural instrumentals and a dual focus on folk music and singer songwriter qualities give dynamic, there isn’t anything new to digest. It has very good moments and has reply value. It will be interesting to see how this group of musicians expand the diversity of their music on later releases.