Album Review: Revere – Hey! Selim

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More often than not, UK exports go unnoticed in the States. For the most part, those that do receive acclaim first trudge down a long and gnarled road that takes quite some time and effort to finish – just ask Matt Bellamy of Muse. So, with that in mind, it’s a little disconcerting for up and coming UK acts. Case in point, eight-piece London collective Revere. Named after a strip from the British Sci-Fi comic 2000 AD, singer-guitarist Stephen Ellis formed the band in the mid-’90s while still attending school. However, the current line-up solidified around 2005 when Ellis teamed up with bassist Andrew Hawke and guitarist Jonathan Fletcher to write and record a debut EP with producer Dave Moore, who has worked with them ever since. Blending elements of gypsy music, klezmer, post-rock, folk, film scores, anthems and more, Revere has created a lush and compelling sound that has managed to snag a small yet passionate following in the UK, one that’s been incredibly loyal and patient for their long-awaited debut. Now with the arrival of Hey! Selim, Revere delivers unquestionably one of the most outstanding releases of the year, pushing the band past a local UK act and into something more.

Before we digress on the album itself, take note of its cover art: a painting of a Spanish matador presented behind splintered glass. It’s intriguing. It’s highly evocative. It suggests something distinctive lurks within – at human disconnection and ritual, themes which are amplified within. Even the album’s title draws from a deeper, implied meaning, referencing a character in Greek director Theo Angelopoulos’ 1998 film, Eternity And A Day. Not coincidentally, Revere’s music complements the haunting poetry associated with the film. Many of the songs describe the aftermath of an event and convey a sense of absence, like you have arrived on the scene and are left to pick through the remains. They speak of the consequences when people don’t communicate and find empathy with those who find it hard to function in an unsympathetic world. Lyrical starkness is ably counterpointed by an all-pervading richness within the music which takes you through a gamut of emotions – all symmetrically pleasing.

It begins with an instrumental, “Forgotten Names”, a gentle, mournful gypsy-inspired overture, and ends with a Celtic-flavored lament, “Too Many Satellites”, again with violin to the fore. In between, there are 10 songs taking you on an intense, at times unrelenting but absolutely rewarding journey. “As the Radars Sleep” follows the opener with wake-up, pounding drums over moody organ and guitar. It builds to reach a choral crescendo before falling away to a bare and beautiful guitar theme, which is then amplified by strings and fully developed by the full band almost as an extended coda, before dissolving into a lovely, tinkling, music-box ending.

“We Won’t Be Here Tomorrow” picks up the urgency of the opening of “Radars”, propelled by trumpet, piano and drums as Stephen Ellis exhorts us to embrace a new dawn, believe and take charge of our own destinies. The rallying call is a compelling “We must keep breathing, feed the fire inside”. So far, very good but then an absolute ace is delivered when “The Escape Artist” is next unleashed. This is a song about division, separation and inhumanity that references the Holocaust, yet emerges as a glorious and uplifting experience. It is a song that would worry any rock thesaurus into submission, an epic widescreen production from its haunting slow build to its heroic waves of sound, which climax a sea of emotion. Blessed with a fabulous melody, “The Escape Artist” is a total triumph and on the strength of this one song alone, Revere should be packing stadiums already.

The song is a tough act to follow, and “They Always Knock Twice” is a wise choice as it signals a complete change of style, tempo and intensity, making its chilling lyrics about loneliness, death and absence even more apposite. The guitar-driven “Throwing Stones” takes us back to the stadium. It’s a hallmark Revere song with a slow, lyrical build rising in intensity to sound a wall of impassioned vocals, crashing percussion and full-on ensemble playing, before resolving itself sotto voce.

The second half of the album is less immediate in its hooks and signatures than what comes before. It is nonetheless packed with strong songs that grow with repeated plays. “The Hating Book” is preceded by a strange field recording of a street preacher moving to a sparse and moving cello-led theme over which the pure vocals of Stephen Ellis radiate with chilled clarity. The song and its sentiments creep up on you and its crashing conclusion arrives almost unexpectedly. “I Can’t (Forgive Myself)” blends elements of a gypsy march with a soundtrack that at times suggests a spy movie of the Cold War era.

“The Things We Said” opens with tiptoed softness but once again comes with a huge ending.  Perhaps the vocal effects, used sparingly on the record, are a little overcooked here. It’s a minor gripe because we then get “I Bet You Want Blood”. This stand-out seven-minute opus has some quite extraordinary rises and falls, Eastern strings, funereal trumpet, military drums and hair-curling, even blood-curdling moments. Listen to the repeated chant, “I’m not the one, the one you want, I’m not him” and be glad it’s not you they are after.

The penultimate song, “Maybe in Time”, is a sort of come-down after the intensive fix that precedes it; an elegiac piano- and string-driven ballad with a purer orchestral feel that harks back to Revere’s early EPs. Similarly, the peaceful closer “Too Many Satellites” acts as a postscript to an intense listening experience. The poignant violin refrain gives way to the whole band in harmony calling for a halt to the eyes that are always open, watching our moves.

The vast soundscapes embroidered by Revere may call to mind bands like Radiohead, Sigur Rós, Godspeed You! Black Emperor, and Arcade Fire but the me-too comparisons should stop right there. Revere has its own brand of magic to cast. Let’s just say that if you like those bands, you may well love Revere. The band’s expert fusion of rock and orchestral instrumentation allied to great songs and a genuinely strong and expressive lead vocal is an explosive mix. This album deserves to be heard far and wide.

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