“The first time we drove into New York we were all crammed in a tiny rental car. We came out of the Lincoln Tunnel and ‘You Will Leave a Mark’ was playing on the radio,” A Silent Film vocalist/pianist Robert Stevenson says, recalling hearing his group’s career-opening single scoring a powerful moment of its inaugural 2010 U.S. tour. The Oxford quartet had just released its debut of epic and ambiently anthemic indie rock, The City That Sleeps, on Bieler Bros. Records, a Florida-based indie with an incongruously niche heavy rock profile. Despite the curious association, A Silent Film had an impressive American welcome. The group became the longest charting band on Sirius XM’s Alt 18 Countdown, shifted 200K downloads as iTunes’ Discovery Download, and sold 75K digital singles.
“Never in my dreams could I imagine the songs I wrote in my bedroom as someone else’s soundtrack to the skyline of New York City. It was only three and a half minutes but it opened my eyes to the greater possibilities of sharing our music,” Robert says. The American tour was a transformative experience for A Silent Film and the group decided to relocate to Arizona and record their sophomore album in the rustic environs of the West. The band’s latest, Sand & Snow, to be released June 5th, 2012 is a snapshot of the fevered creativity inspired by an impulsive tryst with Americana. “Jack Kerouac and Bob Dylan are massive inspirations to me. I felt like I always had a kinship with America; as soon as I could experience it, and I didn’t have to read it in a book anymore, I needed it for writing,” Robert says of the creative necessity of the move. “Previously I had written everything in Oxford, but as soon as I saw America, it changed my process; I wanted to live and breathe it.”
In addition to Robert Stevenson, A Silent Film is rounded out by Karl Bareham (guitar), Ali Hussain (bass) and Spencer Walker (drums). A Silent Film formed in 2005 and has garnered favorable comparisons to Coldplay, The Killers, and Snow Patrol. Its new offering is aligned with its formative poetic and expansive pop-rock aesthetic but there is a freshly confident depth and distinction evident in the writing. Sand & Snow is searchingly hopeful with emotive hooks and romantically purposeful lyrics.
The album gently unfolds with ‘Reaching the Potential’s’ lone, winsome but dreamy vocals bathed in bittersweet strings. Robert sings the following wearily existential lyric: A scholar’s wit in a boxing ring/Went floating by on a humming bird wing/Wide enough to guide you in/With the sun in our eyes we started shivering/Any way we know how/We’re going to get our bellies full/By living on a fault-line/Are we reaching our potential? The dramatic sweep of the song, from delicate ambience to tribal drums with crashing guitars, aptly establishes the album’s mood: introspective but bursting with optimism.
There is a Beat Poetry-esque fevered meter to the creativity inherent in the album, like a Brit-pop score to Jack Kerouac’s On The Road. Rob’s literate flow on ‘Danny, Dakota & the Wishing Well’ is a marquee moment as he sings: Danny met Dakota looking deep into the wishing well/Danny couldn’t write so Dakota taught him how to spell/Dakota told Danny she was falling in love/But Danny couldn’t speak when Dakota grew up. The song has a euphoric gait, with a propulsive rubbery bassline and swooning symphonic melodies that dart in and out to punctuate with essentially elegant primary-color melodicism.
There is an unyielding positivity in Sand & Snow, a spirited wisdom that has a no-matter- what-everything-will-be-alright attitude. ‘Harbor Lights’ captures the liberation of a breakup, the peace you make after the mourning. A key lyric is: You were my rock, never my stepping stone.
“You know that feeling when someone leaves you in a relationship, they have moved on and you’re left behind?” Robert says, explaining the lyric. “If I was in that position I’d want someone to have the humility to say ‘I moved on because I had to, not because you were insignificant to me’.” The song has a patient warmth with cinematic textures appropriately reflecting the longing vocal, the effect manages to be lonely but comforting.
‘Loves Takes a Wrecking Ball’ bursts forward romantic and desperate with an infectious, modern loud/soft dynamic that pairs delicate electro pensiveness against powerfully emotional hooks. “Sometimes you’ve got to pull a house down to build it again. You can keep fixing the doors and painting over the cracks but eventually it may come down and take you with it.” Robert says of the song’s message reflective in its evocative title. “I think love can be like that sometimes, its fun to swing that wrecking ball and say, ‘This is it, are you with me?’”
The band self-produced this time in its new Arizona homespun rehearsal studio. The resulting production treatment is refreshingly contrasting with textural nuanced atmospherics boldly balanced by an earthy candor. “Some of the vocals we recorded outside in the desert because we could. We dragged the cables out into a dry river bed and just let outside noises come out in the recording. I remember this noisy owl silhouetted in a tree. A producer wouldn’t have it, and that makes things becomes mechanical,” Robert says. Mix engineer Alan Moulder – best known for his work with The Killers, Death Cab For Cutie, The Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Foo Fighters – tied the seemingly incongruous approaches together with a mix that favors theatrical dynamics using the Arizona ambience as scene-setting flavour.
A Silent Film had a 5 year history with a highly respectable alternative radio campaign and an impressive tour itinerary, highlighted by jaunts with One Republic and Civil Twilight, The Temper Trap, Smashing Pumpkins, Athlete and Sleigh Bells, but the band found itself when it found America. Sand & Snow documents the wisdom and romance gleaned from self-discovery from band with proven songwriting chops and buzzing career potential. “Our story got started when we got on a plane and came to America in 2010, we felt like we had something to offer America,” Robert says. “We felt defined by the music we made.”