Free From Gravity – Step In To The Sunlight – Album Review
It’s actually pretty rare to stumble onto an album as whole, inoffensive and chilled-out as this new album Step In To The Sunlight from the UK’s Free From Gravity is. I was of two-minds when it came to examining these songs from their new album…on the one hand, you certainly can’t deny that they’re well-played and well-executed performances…and on the other hand it was a lot more difficult to find the excitement and passion in the music and in the writing. Free From Gravity sounds great on Step In To The Sunlight – there’s no doubt about that at all…but also undeniable that the vibe of the sound on this rock record is so smoothed-out & rounded at every corner that it might have produced a bit of their genuine passion right out of the music at times. Making for one of the most bizarre combinations of a truly inviting sound you want to hear, but not one that necessarily will raise your pulse from the excitement – Step In To The Sunlight is built-upon warm melodies, inviting rhythms and a delicate approach to rock.
From what I can see, the songs are all officially available and out online already…but I’m not 100% sure if I’ve got a finalized copy of the new-record or a pre-release. There are a few hints in the balance of the record & silent lead-ins that could potentially point this to not being the official version…I’ve got songs like the opening tunes before the title-track that come out at much lower volumes than other songs by comparison later on in the record. We’ll assume for now that they’re still looking into all the final details, but of course, all I can go on is what I’ve got coming through the speakers – ain’t no argument here, “Finally Realized” needs to come up to match the rest of the record. What works here is certainly the idea and song itself – I’ve got no beef with either of those whatsoever; the gentle rhythm and flow of “Finally Realized” is a highly accessible tune that many people would enjoy I’m sure. That being said…its gentle-nature and sound makes “Finally Realized” a tougher tune to argue as an opening track; it’s undoubtedly pleasant but missing that extra-something that makes what might follow become necessary and not an option. Hard to say of course where it might fit better in the layout…the chorus of “Finally Realized” and its more amped-up latter-half molds itself into a track that works well enough as an opener…though I’d probably have gone with the more noticeable energy of a track like “I Just Don’t Know” to pull people in.
“I Just Don’t Know” highlights the talent & execution that Free From Gravity has for melody in their vocal-flows, harmonies and lead. I couldn’t be a fan of the Beatles or early-R.E.M. and not acknowledge liking this tune for its back-to-basics approach of letting each element shine in its simplicity. The guitars play strong, crunchy-chords, the drums are certainly crisp and they work well with the bass-lines in a rhythm section you quickly realize from listening to this record that you can always depend on to keep Free From Gravity right on time. Solid progression in the structure of the song…the pre-chorus of “I Just Don’t Know” is the real highlight here for me…loved the way the vocals flow through that part. Guitar-solo was good but slightly hindered in production…maybe something I’d look into bringing up just a bit above the rhythm-section of the song to really help it stand-out and pop in the mix as it should. “I Just Don’t Know” has more life & energy to its performance and I think an even wider-degree of accessibility than the opening track “Finally Realized” had; I felt like this song would be more likely to convince people to stick around for the rest to follow.
Time to look-up some fun facts! While I was listening to “It’s Over Now” – I boiled it down to two standout elements that made this track work for me…so let’s get some credit to where credit is due. First up – Andy Stratford on the bass…this guy has been impressive throughout the record so far and continues to stay that way throughout its duration. Really enjoyed his part on “It’s Over Now” and thought that, combined with the excellent, simple, sweet & powerful backing vocals from Ursula Filipowicz really managed to put some of that passion and connection into the music I had felt was missing up to this point. I like the lead-vocals from Vince Barnes as well…I’ve in-fact, liked them on every song I’ve heard…I think the production/performance combination on the way they sound can dangerously lead him towards some very similar tones and expression from track-to-track and makes it a bit harder for them to stand-out as much as they should – but undeniably, he’s always right on-target. Another solid guitar solo from Roger Cooper…still might benefit from another notch or two in the volume department to match the energy of the effervescent snap of the snare from drummer Phil Estell.
As if responding to these very comments, Vince goes on to have one of his best & most expressive performances on the vocals with “Behind Those Lies.” Easily an early highlight on this record for me…I think that you can really hear Free From Gravity rise to this occasion and bring out their best both as individuals and as a band on this tune. Smart vocal-melody from Vince that has multiple dynamics to the parts he sings, resulting in something a lot more lively for us to listen to. Overall, “Behind Those Lies” really sounds like the band is right into this one…the smooth groove established between the drums & bass-lines in addition to the absolute necessity that becomes the keyboards in this tune – I felt like this was inarguably one of the songs that you could hear and feel the passion emanating from the players in their performance more than the rest. A really sweet melody and song…part of the real magic in “Behind Those Lies” also comes from the extremely clever timing and placement of the backing-vocals from both Vince and Urszula…they sound fantastic here and that extra line from Vince in the chorus singing ‘the truth is hidden’ are perfection. Solid, focused lyricism…simple melody that’s never over-complicated…flawlessly executed…”Behind Those Lies” is a wonderful tune altogether.
“The Long Road” is a mixed-tempo ballad that made for an interesting listen. At first it was the verse I liked more…then on repeat-listens it was the chorus…now at the time of writing this and listening once more while I do, I’d say the strengths of this one come out pretty evenly. Love the innocent-sounding guitars in the beginning and simple percussion against Vince’s vocals & sparse atmosphere; I think there’s a fragility you can hear in Barnes’ voice on this one throughout the verse that disappears when he heads into the strength of the chorus. Nothing wrong with that…I think those kind of moments usually showcase the qualities of what we connect with in a singer’s performance even more-so than every single note coming out to perfection or solid, unwavering lines in the mix-files. So…to me…that was a bit of added uniqueness here on Free From Gravity…it felt like Vince dropped the veil of production a bit more here to let us in more – and as a result I think you can hear a bit more sincerity in the sound of his voice on his performance on “The Long Road.”
IS IT TIME FOR THE TITLE-TRACK?
OH IT IS! I COULD HARDLY NOTICE! WAIT A SECOND…WHY AM I SHOUTING?
Sorry about that. That’s my friendly way of saying welcome to the land of the volume-knob Free From Gravity! Things get…ummm…noticeably louder on “Step Into The Sunlight.” I know that the intentions were to create a bright & sunny rhythm & rock-groove here – but you need to wear shades and earmuffs for this one when playing it in sequence with the rest. That being said – “Step Into The Sunlight” in my opinion, is the example, blueprint and map that Free From Gravity should be sticking to in efforts to guide their production to success and accept nothing less than the sparkling sound this has to offer on any of their tunes if they’re proven to be capable of this. Everything about this song came out sounding exactly right did it not? I can’t imagine that I’m the only one that can hear that by comparison…Free From Gravity HAS to be able to recognize the difference in the crispness & clarity of the mix here – that’s what you want! I’m only half-sold on the song itself – but the sound is so noticeably improved in production, definition and strength here that I’ll grade this tune with all the bonus-marks in the world just to drive home the point! Long-story short – I feel like they’ve got a song here whereby the verse outshines the chorus 2:1…and truthfully, I might even like its instrumental stretches even more than the parts with vocals on “Step Into The Sunlight” – BUT…the focus on the mix and getting it all to come out sounding spectacular is beyond noticeable here and makes all the difference in the world to what we hear with the beautifully vibrant atmosphere and punch in the music.
And that of course…makes it so much more difficult to head back into the lower-volume tracks, especially when they pop-up on either side of such a brightened, noticeable spike in sound right in the middle. Because…for the most-part…I try not to dwell on this kind of stuff; it’s hard not to when you’re shown capabilities like on “Step Into The Sunlight” and then shown the opposite instincts as well…and here’s WHY – it’s DANGEROUS! What do I mean by that? I mean that when we hear the peak of the mix or capabilities, as listeners – we’ll want that every time thereafter from the moment we define what those are to us within the framework of what we hear on any given record. It can COST a song like “Hold On” to come after such a spike in volume to follow it up with the most innocent, isolated and intimate track on the record…it snaps us out of that flow while we’re searching for the volume to manually compensate for the unevenness. And like I said…I try not to dwell on it…but when I hear how stunning & gorgeously well-executed the writing and performance is on a track like “Hold On” – and to have it nearly buried in volume by comparison to the track just before it…well…I mean…c’mon now! I have and always will be on the side of musical-justice…and for the beautiful melody of “Hold On” to appear suppressed in any way, shape or form is something this dude just cannot abide by. Without question – “Hold On” is one of my favorite songs on this record and writing that really connects with its sweet sincerity; melancholy, thoughtful, reflective and still hopeful. I might be upset with its current placement on the record…but in fairness to Free From Gravity…again, I might have an early mix here. Where it gets more tricky and difficult to take this all in on one listening experience is when “Crazy Lady” comes roaring through the speakers right after again with another noticeable loud-spike in volume similar to “Step Into The Sunlight” – and once it happens more than once on any given record, it naturally puts us on the defensive and has us ready to manually adjust to correct that as we listen, lest we blow a speaker or two. With their tendency to create relaxing & gentle vibes in rock…I can’t imagine that kind of stress in a listening experience is what this band would be looking to provide.
I think there is some of the “Step Into The Sunlight”-effect on “Crazy Lady” as well…it felt like that increase of punch in the production and added clarity in the mix really helped this one climb the ladder of the list of songs I enjoyed on this record – BUT…I also think it’s just a better song overall. Guitars have some excellent stand-out moments here on this tune…Vince’s vocals sound great…the song has energy, it’s versatile in its attitude and character but fun to listen to with a pop/rock mix akin to something like The LA’s or The Fountains Of Wayne – but with added, impressive instrumentation. The vocal-melodies and guitars really steal the show on “Crazy Lady” – they both deserve a lot of credit; I’d say turn this one up, but they clearly knew you’d want to and already took care of that for us in the mix!
Smart accenting, stunning guitar tones continue to guide Free From Gravity into a strong second-half with “Tea, Coffee Or Something” – which would probably be my choice for unsung hero on this album. Some of you writers out there – Vince Barnes included – have a real knack of expressing some incredible sentiments, messages and descriptions through imaginative and sincere lines that are innocent & unfiltered like you’ll find on “Tea, Coffee Or Something.” Even the title itself suggests a real lack of pretentiousness in the writing of this tune. Was there another word that could have gone in where the word ‘something’ exists? Surely! Would that other word have described what Free From Gravity wanted to really say better than ‘something’ did? Surely NOT! I think the honesty in writing like this comes across every time…sure Vince could have searched for some incredible word to fill that space – but as a result, this track would have come out likely much less sincere. I think he nailed this one in the writing by including an impressively accurate but unfinished line like that…I think that says something in and of itself just as it is. Not only did the words impress me on this one, but also the vibrant flow of this entire groove really moves in fantastic ways that sparkle, shine and truly captivate the heart & soul. Another strong example of Free From Gravity really finding that gear that connects them to their material – it’s performances like this where in my opinion, you hear their passion with its utmost clarity.
“Dance With Me” is one of the tougher ones to review…up to about this point, all the songs I’ve heard naturally appeal to me in some way, shape or form. “Dance With Me” is a highlight example of a song that doesn’t work for me personally but is likely to be a hit with many, many people out there. So it’s not MY thing – big deal! I’m just one guy! The fact is…they’ve got a perfect amount of energy on “Dance With Me” and the up-tempo gear in the music is a sound that this band wears with confidence – so really, I can’t complain. Kind of reminds me of what you’d almost imagine the Beach Boys sounding like in the modern-age with amped-up distortion but still the heart of their simple, sweet melodies and bold harmonies leading the way. I’m already known to be way-too-serious when it comes to songs that are designed to be fun, fun, fun and naturally resist them…in that sense, “Dance With Me” was fighting an uphill battle with me from the moment it started – but I can’t deny hearing a track that hits the mark for what it aims for and this one splits the arrow, dead-center of the target. The most energy they’ve put into a track so far on Step In To The Sunlight – “Dance With Me” is vibrantly appealing and accessible through its uplifting attitude…great breakdown in this tune as well. Might not have been my own personal favorite but no arguing that they’ve executed this track to pop/rock perfection.
Amplifying their way to the album’s ending, the fire-up the energy once again on “Saints & Sinners.” Great energy in this cut, great harmonies and additional ideas in the vocal-department with how they sound by using added filters & effects; the music never stops moving on “Saints & Sinners” with walking bass-lines furiously supplying the rhythm & groove amongst the guitars, drums & subtle-additions into the swirl of the mix. Another up-tempo display of vibrant-rock music that has fun and genuinely celebrates the genre itself – “Saints & Sinners” is a riotously good-time for all ears concerned. I still find myself wanting those guitar solos up just a bit more in the mix but I felt like what we hear on “Saints & Sinners” does a pretty good job of representing that moment with a bit more presence this time around. Free From Gravity has undeniably taken up the energy towards the end of Step In To The Sunlight …just the final track of “Don’t Say Goodbye” remains…
Much like what happened with “Hold On” applies to this final track as well. After being on an impressive roll from “Crazy Lady” all the way to “Saints & Sinners” we had the mix on Free From Gravity right where we wanted it…and we’ve got one final massive drop in volume to get to the melody of “Don’t Say Goodbye.” Once again, I’ll advise the caution that this kind of experience can cost a song…potentially an album…and for the record, far less likely for myself in comparison to the way most people listen to music…they do need to be careful in examining how these songs end up sounding back-to-back as they play as that does really impact the overall listening experience. And again – credit where credit is due – this is the second time they’ve done it on the record where it affects some of their most brilliant writing! Free From Gravity has put together a very strong tune to end the record with a great mix of powerful emotion and delicate grace in the sound of “Don’t Say Goodbye” – the longest song on the record but also one of the more transformative and satisfying listens as well. In terms of an ending…I think it’s a fantastic, dreamy final moment for a record full of well-written ideas; “Don’t Say Goodbye” ends the album on one of its most confident and brilliant structures…a song that will truly last and make the impact it deserves immediately and even more-so over time.
While it might be a bit on the uneven side in terms of the mix & production – the quality of their writing and execution never drops for a moment. The moments where you can hear Free From Gravity is right into the music they’re making have real magic – and there were more than enough of those on Step In To The Sunlight by the time it wraps-up to make this a journey worth taking. Room to improve but plenty of reasons to listen and support their consistent-quality and invitational sound…there’s a comforting element to the nature of Free From Gravity’s music that I think a lot of people will genuinely admire.
Find out more about Free From Gravity at their official page: http://freefromgravitymusic.com