EP Review: Taking Berlin

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Young Glaswegian band Taking Berlin recently brought out their eponymous three-track EP – their first official studio release – to general acclaim from many in the Glasgow music scene. As a long-time fan of Taking Berlin’s lead singer Zoe Graham (check out her solo catalogue on her SoundCloud: https://soundcloud.com/zoegrahammusic), I was keen to check out these new tunes and take them for an aural test run.

… And I have to say: it was not half bad.

For a band that has not been together for more than six months, Taking Berlin has demonstrated their keen songwriting ability with this EP – even if some aspects of the record’s general production could be improved. The vocals are crisp and earthy, Zoe’s natural tonality a delight to anyone with a working pair of ears. The arrangement of the guitars and drums are generally rather straightforward, no particular risks being taken within the compositions themselves, but what you get as a result with these three songs is an insight into the true potential of a young band who are just beginning their journey together. It is genuinely a very exciting piece of work.

The first track, ‘That Drinking Song’, is by far and away the best of the three. The vocal harmonies and the punchy bassline is as grunge pop as you can get, working extremely well when counterbalanced with the smooth melody of the lead guitar and repetitive main vocal line. The song’s chorus is also extremely catchy, the listener being instantly hooked in by its melody in lead guitar form as it kicks off the track. The only gripe I feel that I really have with ‘That Drinking Song’ is that sometimes the instrumentation drags during several of the bridges between verses, and this will mostly be due to the quality of production; overall, though, this is a song worthy of an Edi Brickell/KT Tunstall musical hybrid and has found its way straight onto my iPhone.

‘Taking The Bear From Berlin’ is the second track and departs from the sound of ‘That Drinking Song’, electing a more Arctic Monkeys-esque style, the rhythm guitar exhibiting a sparser; sharper tone throughout the verses. The bassline and Zoe’s vocals create a wonderful dynamic during the bridge into the final chorus, tickling the listener with an indie rock build-up punctuated by a punky drum rhythm. There is a fast-picked section of lead guitar here with high reverb mixed into it, and personally I feel that the definition of the notes is too hard to make out, diminishing its effect – in spite of this, though, the bridge section remains a highlight of the song.

The lyrics in ‘Taking The Bear From Berlin’ – with lines such as “you always change your mind / you’re running out of time / get your head up, you’re just being blind / take this as advice: you mind to be kind?” – aren’t the song’s strong suit, as nothing particularly leaps out and grabs my attention, but Zoe’s handling of certain vowels in these sections work extremely well. For example, in words like “blind” and “kind”, Zoe’s vocal execution bends around the “i” vowel which, for whatever reason, sounds great and hugely interesting, making otherwise unimpressive lines memorable as a result.

Track three entitled ‘Full Package’, it has to be said, is at least a minute too long – perhaps even two minutes. Again, it is a departure from the tonal genre of the previous two, this song going for a much heavier vibe (it honestly would not sound totally out of place on a Queens of the Stone Age B-side), and it does work, but structurally the repeated sections could have been cut down.

The overall production of the final track is huge, really allowing the EP to breathe and finish on a massive high, and the rhythmic melody of Zoe’s vocals will get your fingers tapping and your feet twitching; in terms of general production, this is probably the highest quality of the three tracks. The distinct first impression I received on first listen was that this song would be killer to see live; I can already picture a crowd of moshers in a smoky city club, letting their dank hair hang down across their faces as they bop to the rhythm of the pounding bass. However, as previously stated, I do find the length of ‘Full Package’ a little too unwieldy for its own good – it would benefit the song to be trimmed down for future recordings (if they chose to re-release this particular track) so as to save the full length experience for live performances. The song would be so full on, even at a length of three minutes, that nothing in particular would be missed from the five minute extended version.

As the final track comes to an end, the closing hums of the crackling bass and guitar leaves the listener breathless.

Taking Berlin’s debut EP is a surprisingly eclectic collection of sound tones and genre, despite only being a small three-track release. I find it hugely impressive and a genuinely original, fresh collection. There are of course aspects to it that could do with finessing – tightened production and instrumentation required here and there – but overall I can find very little wrong to say about this record. It made me smile with its optimistic vibrance and left me wanting more.

I highly recommend that you have a listen to them yourself, dear reader, through the links below. 8/10

https://soundcloud.com/taking-berlin-450668871

https://www.facebook.com/takingberlinmusic/

 

Chris Irvine

Scottish.

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