Being introduced to Phil Lewis through his highly enjoyable Age of Nothing EP, it is fair to say that we have bred an increasingly eager appetite for the pop rock prowess of the Welsh singer songwriter. Though he had already reaped a potent reputation and a healthy level of acclaim for a trio of earlier albums, the EP was the biggest nudge yet on widespread recognition. Now that potent hint has become a mighty roar thanks to the release of Patchwork Heart, a contagion of inspiring hooks and essential melodies united in some of the best pop tracks you are likely to heard this year.
Hailing from Penarth, Lewis had his musical passion seeded in “frighteningly dressed people on Top of the Pops”, and then in turn “the various genre charts in NME and Melody Maker”. It sparked the dream to have one of his own songs in the charts and in 2008 the release of his first single Just One Kiss became a very close miss on realising that dream. The first spark in an evolving and increasingly successful career came just before it though, with the unveiling of debut album Ancient Light the year before. Since then Lewis has released another pair of well-received and acclaimed full-lengths in Movements In Space (2009) and Ripples From a Small Pond (2011), with the aforementioned Age of Nothing hooking a great many more of us at the beginning of 2014.
Patchwork Heart is the next proposition from the man and in many ways the coming of age of his songwriting and pop invention. Its nine tracks provide a torrent of enslaving pop ingredients but composed and delivered with an imagination and almost mischievous energy and passion. Lyrically the album sees Lewis look with intimate honesty at the tough times he faced over past years, including the death of his father from Alzheimer’s Disease and the end of a long-term relationship as well as himself being diagnosed with Crohn’s disease. Musically it all comes with a hope fuelled, emotionally uplifting hug though, Lewis easy to suspect a ‘glass half full’ character with sings always seeming to veer towards the long term light.
Created again in collaboration with Ben Haynes, who produced the record and plays all the instruments, Patchwork Heart opens with Tumbling Down. Within a few breaths, the song is coaxing ears with blues spiced guitar and tenacious beats, the voice of Lewis as potent and strong as ever as things bounce and revolve around him. The track’s prime hook has an air of familiarity to it which only adds to the temptation whilst the fiery guitar endeavour of Haynes is extra tang in a rousing opener.
Things only become more infectious and gripping though as the tantalising Japan-esque Up On This Shelf swings up to the imagination. An exotic melody starts things off, a pulsating bass throb with crystalline shards of guitar quickly taking over as the tones of Lewis entice. The track is mesmeric, a sublime slice of elegant seduction with an underlying sonic eroticism. Not for the last time within Patchwork Heart, an open eighties flavouring and inspiration colour song and ears, Right on Time immediately after also providing a similar lusty hue of nostalgia kissed and undoubtedly fresh revelry. Virulent in all aspects, the song romps along on another bait of anthemic rhythms wrapped in the dramatic enterprise cast by guitar, keys, and bass. Like a blend of China Crisis, Pete Wylie, and The Killers, the track is glorious; Lewis at his pop conjuring best.
Healing Hands slips in next with a far more subdued energy to that of its predecessor as shadow toned guitar and vocals are gripped by a warm but melancholic expression. Lewis’ voice embrace ears in a reflectively intimate croon as that bright, crystal like quality to the melodies of earlier songs emerges again to resonate in the spatial climate above the intimate canvas. Over time the song’s air becomes more tempestuous leading to one highly provocative and stirring climax. The track is a powerful incitement on body and emotions, as too the following Smile in its very different way. From a synth pop start, the song is a vibrant shuffle manipulating ears and feet from the get go. The bubbly electronics continue to lure and tempt as guitars and vocals brew up an irresistible feast of pop infection backed by the great vocals of Sarah Haynes. The song takes thoughts again back to the eighties, its pop tonic hinting at the likes of Thomas Dolby and Thompson Twins, and to be honest quite impossible not to get physically involved with.
Next up is Sunshine in the Night, a song just as much a puppeteer on body and appetite which from its initial smothering of emotive beauty breeds a mouth-watering mix of repetitious teasing, contagion spewing vocal tempting, and immersive atmospherics. Rhythmically too, the track is a nonstop invitation which simply gets under the skin and leaves a big grin on the psyche.
The country spiced, fiery shimmer of Fantasy Reality bewitches next, its voice and body an alluring evocation of the heart whilst I Believe is a sixties hued offering with a good whisper of the Walker Brothers to its strolling enticement. The track’s chorus is another rousing hard to resist proposal, though that applies to most of them across the release to be honest, as proven one last time by the brilliant Be A Hero. The closer epitomises a Phil Lewis song, bold rhythms aligned to drama soaked imagination and the rich enterprise gripping ears as Lewis provides the strength of his voice. With more enthralling backing vocals, this time from Lizzie Dean, the track is a jungle of intrigue and emotive theatre, and the perfect way to end a thoroughly thrilling and impressive release.
A Phil Lewis song lies somewhere between those of the previously mentioned Pete Wylie and Colin Vearncombe (Black), and now after Patchwork Heart deserve to be contemplated in the same breath. Also out now is Digging for Earworms, a free to download best of album covering previous releases and including the riveting likes of Let’s Play, Age of Nothing, and Imprisoned. Both are albums all rock/pop fans should treat themselves to, as Lewis confirms himself as one of Britain’s brightest artists.
Patchwork Heart is out now @ http://phillewisuk.bandcamp.com/album/patchwork-heart
Pete RingMaster 24/11/2015
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