Tracklisting: The Thump/Division/Call It Sweet/Down by the Valley/Retrospect/Pretty Little Colours/The Quartet/Like You & Lou/Cherry Picking/Porcupine Love/It’s Chemical/Illuminations
The male acoustic guitar-wielding singer-songwriter has practically become an entire genre in itself and effectively a whole sub-industry, thanks to the success of artists such as this year’s official soundtrack to summer Ed Sheeran (currently enjoying an unbroken eight-week run at number one in the album chart), Ben Howard, Paolo Nutini and George Ezra.
Cornwall’s own recent contribution to this growing wave is Redruth-based Ben Thorpe who introduces his debut album ‘Illuminations’ to the world at a time when the male singer-songwriter is arguably at its peak. With so many other similar artists, it is a task to distinguish the truly great from the truly average and the defiantly unique from the defiantly homogenous. Thankfully, Ben manages to both emulate his influences and peers, and refine his sound into one that singles him out from the rest of the pack.
The debut album by Ben Thorpe is packed with hooks and bags of attitude in equal measure. The combination of yearning, angst-ridden lyrics with sun-soaked upbeat melodies result in a collection of songs that simultaneously float like a butterfly and sting like a bee.
His vocals throughout fall somewhere between the sneer and snarl of Arctic Monkey’ Alex Turner and The Strokes’ Julian Casablancas, and the whisky-soaked gravelly tone of Paolo Nutini. Certainly, there are infleunces of each on the blissful indie-pop of album opener The Thump, which sounds like what the result would be if Nutini did a cover of a Strokes tune, as does the funky blues of The Quartet. Division mimics a stripper-back Monkeys track without the heavy guitars but swagger still kept intact. Built on Ben’s tender vocal and a delicate string-plucking melody, the track briefly builds from its quietly yearning vibe into a choir of voices that promise a big finish, only to fall back onto a whimper.
On Down by the Valley, he blends a Jeff Buckley-inspired morose vocal turn with the retro twang of Miles Kane, while Pretty Little Colours sounds like Tom Odell with a guitar in place of a piano. It’s Chemical is arguably the poppiest song on the record, with angsty lyrics welded onto an infectiously upbeat melody and energetic beat. The driving title track closes the album. Where the album opened on the most graceful of touches, Illuminations closes with a sucker-punch acoustic guitar hook.
Overall, a solid debut offering from an artist with a lot of promise, who imitates all his obvious influences without sounding like a clone copy, and dresses it all in his own distinctive style that marks him as a real contender for the elite of Ed Sheeran-era guitar-bearing male artists.
‘Illuminations’ will be released next month. You can catch Ben Thorpe supporting LightKnife at the following venues/dates:
– Miss Peapod’s Cafe, Penryn, Sat 23 Aug
– Studio Bar, Penzance, Thurs 4 Sept
– The Balcony, St Ives, Fri 19 Sept
More from Ben Thorpe: