Wednesday, June 28, 2023

James Percival Releases The Experimental Indie Album ‘Glasnost’

James Percival has released ‘Glasnost’, a concept album that takes listeners on a journey of openness and experimentation with subplots and themes of identity loss, heartbreak, resentment, and nostalgia all told with gentleness and vulnerability. 

Dabbling in risky, experimental music James Percival grew up in Cornwall and attended the South West Music School where his musical mentors inspired him and his sound. Soon creating ‘Glasnost’, his debut album, though predominantly an indie record Percival shows off his craftsmanship with experimental elements to it, dabbling into elements of other genres, where each track gives something different. 

Opening with ‘Half Myself’, this track is about identity loss and finding yourself again. A highly relatable and emotive song, it is slow in its tempo with a thudding drum at the forefront alongside a catchy percussion and a simple guitar arrangement. 

Percival’s vocals are soft and fuelled by emotion, the use of rhetorical questions, “Why should I care that you might leave me to be in the dark?” This acts as reflection and a plea for the answer even though he is asking no one in particular. 

As ‘Half Myself’ progresses, it goes from being a feeling of loss to a journey of self-discovery. A tonal shift through singular and light guitar strums between brief pauses changes the tempo and it suddenly picks up. This is it he has found the answers he’s been searching for, as shown through the lyrics “Half of me has been set free…now I see it wasn’t you I needed all along”. The use of a reverb is added to the final part of the song to add a dramatic feeling, the added echo to the soft vocals creates harmony and shows Percival’s use of experimentation in its simplest form.

‘Let Me Go’ takes an entirely different stylistic approach. Opening with a smooth and jazz-like style and a slow tempo and then kicks in with a distinct beat and an electronic style picking up and becoming melodious. The opening vocals hear Percival speaking, asking and pleading with a mysterious figure and again sees him using rhetorical questions, with the lyrics “I’m sure it won’t always be like this’ which is a repeated question throughout the track, creating familiarity and that this is an ongoing promise between the couple. 

A mysterious female voice takes centre stage within ‘Let Me Go’, the lyrics “let me go now. Let me go now” alongside Percival’s speaking parts show that this is a track about heartbreak and loss. The use of repetition creates a pattern and its simple chorus will get stuck in the listener's mind for ages. The musical approach is simple, showcasing his instrumentals, including a saxophone solo and really showcasing the jazz influences.

James Percival shows real experimentation throughout 'Glasnost’ especially within the tracks ‘Unravelling,’ ‘Five Ways’ and ‘Mr Gobachev’. Each of these tracks takes on a digital, radio-like style that oozes with nostalgia for the 1980s but the added distortion and mixed in with reverb gives each track a futuristic and modern sound but each is explored differently.

Unravelling’ and ‘Mr Gobachev’ have an interesting electric guitar set up, building up and letting loose taking a U-turn from the usual indie sound, dipping into progressive rock. Epic and enthralling with stylised vocals really show off James Percvial’s musicianship and the ability to create compelling soundscapes and epic breakdowns. 

James Percival plays around with tempo throughout ‘Glasnost’, a key example being the two tracks ‘Need To Slow Down’ and ‘‘Naivety’. Though they are both acoustic tracks, they are different. ‘Need To Slow’ starts off slow, but gradually picks up with a build-up of keys, synths and a funky bassline creating a complex soundscape and a level of chaos, reiterating the message of needing to slow down. Whereas, ‘Naivety’ is simple in structure, with just an acoustic guitar accompanied by vocals. 

Closing the album is ‘Drifting’, a soundscape of instruments, starting with a lone piano and then a slightly out-of-tune guitar and bassline before introducing high vocals singing sweet nothings. 

‘Glasnost’ is an experimental indie rock album that achieves what it sets out to do, pushing the norms of popular music and embarks in different directions. By merging genres there is no doubt that James Percival possesses the real talent and by diving into different genres, themes and focuses there is something for everyone in this album. 

Ana Joy King


Image: ‘Glasnost’ Official Album Cover

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