Tess of the Circle, (or TotC as they shall now be colloquially referred to), have just released a lovely acoustic number as a single from their very nicely polished album, ‘Amplify’.
Emblazoned on the front of this single, if you were to be an adventurous sort and buy it as a physical copy, (or even a vinyl if you’re just too good for all these modern conveniences), is an appropriately ambiguous yet distinct piece of artwork. I’m grateful for this – unlike other covers which are often an unusually depressing sight of either run down pubs or examples of Northern gentrification, ‘This Higher Ground’ keeps things simple. Some soft blue fairy lights, (potentially available from a variety of retailers, but because I’m not that dedicated, I didn’t look at which shops sold these lights; my apologies) contrast vividly against a dark plain background, I believe which is taken from the accompanying video. Distinctive is the word I’m looking for here.
Given that I’ve just written over a hundred words on a simple piece of cover art, let me also express my appreciation for the comprehensive delivery of this single; aside from a thorough press release (which I may just start regurgitating), the track itself and the subsequent video are all very well done indeed. I can assure you, this isn’t recorded in a bus station and mixed by a kid who’s just getting started with Adobe Audition, and the video isn’t a filmed-in-a-Tesco-car-park-with-an-old-Nokia job. But being produced by Gavin Monaghan, who also leant his ears to the likes of The Sherlocks and Editors, you should expect as much. Lovely job with the presentation and production, as the deep sound of the single, reverberates prominently, flexing its sonic prowess at every available opportunity.
Anyway, onto the proper bit of the review, who exactly is this group? Well, thankfully, dear reader, I can offer an answer: TotC are a group focused on the almost eponymous singer/songwriter Tess Jones, formed in the distant past of 2010. Consisting of four spritely young gentlemen originating from a place in which I couldn’t get into University, (Oxford, that is); I’ll be focusing on the album line-up here, composed of the aforementioned Tess Jones (vocals and guitar), Lee Clifton (guitar, who also features on both studio and live performances), Ben Drummond (bass, although I feel with that name he should have given drums a go), and finally Paul Stone (drums).
Given its context, I must admit, this is a peculiar single indeed. The rest of the album predominantly consists of straight-forward, good ol’ British-powered rock, with varying degrees of complexity and intensity which is somewhat reminiscent of bands like Rival Sons or Cast, for example. But the conclusive position of the song works in its favour – surrounded by highly-driven rock, ‘This Higher Ground’ sticks out prominently as a conclusive and grounded ending to an energetic album. Rather than becoming the mandatory acoustic song on a rock album, ‘This Higher Ground’ becomes an emotionally-driven, powerful end-stop, more reminiscent of a ballad rather than a simple song.
This is reiterated by the video: Alone, the single can seem a bit detached and disjointed, but when the two mediums are paired together, a bit of necessary context is added, resulting in a much more fulfilling listening experience. Both could stand alone, but both pieces serve to reinforce one another. Otherwise, the video, (while very touching, appropriate, and well-produced) would run the risk of looking like a bank advert.
So, does it all work? For all the polish and professionalism, is ‘This Higher Ground’ any good? Well, in what I’ve been trying to say for the past six-hundred words, yes, it is.
The structure of the song is simple, with a blissful combination of acoustic guitar, synchronised, brush-beaten drums and Tess’s wonderfully harrowing vocals conveying a constant sense of emotion and passion throughout the tune. But when the chorus comes, the infatuation with the theme of self-betterment is fortified by some equally simple, yet delightful strings, adding a necessary weight to the chorus.
I was admittedly sceptical when I first read the press-release which I thought was bordering on the hyperbolic. But indeed, ‘This Higher Ground’ has the potential to be an incredibly powerful and touching song which could take an emerging band to their next step. Did I also mention it has a mandolin in it? I barely even know what one of those is…
Simply put, and I know this may not do the track justice, it’s a lovely piece of musical sentiment cleverly hidden away in an intense rock album.
‘This Higher Ground’ is coming soon (Friday 9th of June) as a single release, and the album ‘Amplify’ is out now, coming shortly to vinyl. You can catch them at the aptly-named Amplified Festival in Gloucestershire, on the 21st of July, and also follow their Twitter and Facebook if you like.