Posted by & filed under Music, Reviews.

The Barnum Meserve

The Barnum Meserve album art

The Barnum Meserve

6th April 2015 – Self-released

01. War Games
02. Open Up Your Eyes
03. Colours
04. Don’t Be Afraid
05. Last Forever
06. Half Mast
07. Underneath The Grey
08. Without Numbers
09. After The Fire
10. Losing Sleep
11. Dust
12. Take Shelter
13. Tides

August 2013 feels like a long time ago now, but that was when we were first given a sneaky first listen to The Barnum Meserve‘s debut full length album. After that, things went ominously quiet, and to be honest we had started to fear the worst. We were able to breathe a sigh of relief when the band’s social media accounts started whirring into life again at the start of the year, and now the general release of this self-titled album is almost upon us. Phew. But a year and a half is a long time, so let’s back up a bit and take it from the top, shall we?

Newcomers to The Barnum Meserve need to know one important fact right out of the gate – one which sets the Nottingham trio apart from the vast majority of bands we cover: they don’t have a guitarist. Shocking. Instead of a six-string, vocalist Leon Wiley seats himself behind a keyboard. Backed up by bassist Dylan Griffiths and drummer Paul Moss-Pearce, the trio further augment their sound with lavish orchestral accompaniments.

Gentle introductory track “War Games” shows off the band’s not-so-secret weapon: Leon’s extraordinarily powerful and emotive voice. Over the course of the album, Leon proves himself to be a most uncommon talent, ranging from gentle whispers through to genuinely heartfelt howls. It is spellbinding.

It’s on second track “Open Up Your Eyes” that Dylan and Paul first make their presence felt, propelling the track with a simple but effective undercurrent. Like Muse‘s Christopher Wolstenholme, Dylan often fills out his sound – and that of the band – with an overdriven tone that both leaves space for Leon’s keys and renders the absence of a guitar almost entirely moot.

As The Barnum Meserve progresses, the quality remains unstintingly high. The core of the band’s anthemic and hugely memorable tracks are given a cinematic – maybe even panoramic – scope by the tasteful addition of brass and string parts. The former do unfortunately still retain a hint of the artificial, but the latter are rich and lush – and full orchestral live recording is obviously going to sit outside the band’s budget at this stage. So whilst there are points where the samples show themselves for what they are, those instances are both rare and completely understandable.

With such consistent quality, singling out specific high points is a challenge, but certainly a pleasant one. “Half Mast” deserves a mention for its brooding, haunting vibe, complete with a genuinely spooky string section. Elsewhere, “Losing Sleep” perfectly captures the delicate beauty the band are capable of, and “Don’t Be Afraid” is a dynamic rollercoaster with some surprisingly heavy sections.

Despite the protracted delay in their debut album seeing the light of day, The Barnum Meserve haven’t just been idling, with their second album already largely written and recorded, so we hopefully won’t have to wait another two years to hear that – but there is plenty to keep us occupied in this album until then as well.

For the uninitiated, The Barnum Meserve is likely to be a surprise and a delight of an album. It is slightly unconventional, but immediately accessible and the absence of a ‘traditional’ guitar is barely noticed after the first listen. It is a richly varied, dynamic and mature collection of songs that are all but certain to lodge themselves in your consciousness and stubbornly refuse to leave. Great stuff.