In a contemporary music scene, flush with the marimbas of Ed Sheeran and besotted with the latest Harry Styles reinvention, there are rays of hope.
Indie-Folk is arguably a niche product of the contemporary predisposition towards the acoustic singer songwriter or duo. Yet, every now and then, a group comes long with a bit of bite. ‘Mackerel’, the latest single from Indie-Folk Duo Sandtimer is a shot across the bow and welcome breath of fresh air. This new single is not an enigma, it is another reminder that this is a strong and progressive group with a bold future ahead of them.
Influenced by the kindred spirits of Nick Drake, Beck and Joni Mitchell, this is tempered with an amalgamation of traditional folk and contemporary indie. Importantly, the line-up is an organic and natural combination, now aided by more members and a greater streamlined sound. The line-up is, at it’s core, a tale of two halves. Robert Sword, a classically trained pianist, and Simon Thomas, an oceanography graduate and bassist make an endearing and charming pair. This is augmented further by Sword’s progressive approach to music. Discovering the alternate guitar tunings of the likes of Nick Drake and Joni Mitchell, Sword combined these sounds with his self-taught technique on the serpentine and elegant Okinawan sanshin. Thus, he began experimenting with the guitar, finding a new compositional and tonal voice and harmonic style in the process. This musical variety is testament to a group which defies the basic Em to G progression which afflicts many groups in the same stage of their career. This, especially in new single ‘Mackerel’, is testament to a highly competent musical oeuvre.
Significantly, the placement of a decisive and distinctive emphasis on intricate guitar lines, close vocal harmonies and sparse, Appalachian-influenced arrangements works in their favour. Listen to the opening and closing of ‘Mackerel’ and one gains an innate appreciation of the mutual respect both Rob and Simon share. Interestingly, the formation of Sandtimer in 2014, belies a confidence in their material. Sword’s girlfriend Rachel contributes aptly and consistently with backing vocals and bass to many of their songs and performances. This is aided by the addition of a talented live percussionist, Alex Jackson who regularly performs with the group.
Now, let’s delve into the music. Their latest single, is a resonant rearrangement of the title track from the latest EP. It features fresh and eclectic electronic elements. This is supplemented persuasively by chopped up samples to create an ambient, summery sound. The clear Van Morrison trademark is built upon with aplomb, weaving together Okinawan folk-infused sanshin solos with percussive bass. Undeniably, the track begins promisingly, plucked strings and rising harmonies belying a underlying steel to their music. The driven drum line emphasises a story echoed by recent barnstorming singer Lorde; specifically that of a long night at a party turned sour. From this critic’s humble perspective, the upbeat reworking of a live favourite takes the strong folk influences that have underpinned Sandtimer’s music so far and combines them extensively, with a more expansive, indie sound.
Ultimately, what is undeniable is that this group is heading in a promising direction. The music produced is of high quality and the lyrics drip with the witty insights of Van the Man and Bob Dylan. Often, it is the case that such a group may be restricted to one genre. This is not the case with Sandtimer, their ringing songs and musical mastery beckons towards a promising future, a solid fan base and more festival appearances than one could shake a stick at. One to watch, one to listen to, one with a long career in the making.
Words by James Hill