Michael Philip Reed is a man of many talents. He earned the nickname “The One Man Band” from his work with steampunk musical project Steam Powered Giraffe, for which he has been recording engineer, musical arranger, songwriter, backing/lead vocalist – not to mention playing a plethora of different instruments! Here, though, he shows the expanse of his capability solely as a one man band, fulfilling all roles in the making of the album himself. The result does not disappoint.
Below is one of the tracks from his previous album, ‘Smallish 2012-2014‘, displaying a funky style similar to that heard in parts of ‘Medium Fidelity’:
[Video Link for ‘Syster Got Style’: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6jsRxEvQp5c]
‘Medium Fidelity 2015-2017’ is recorded in an eclectic variety of ways, often old-fashioned: he cites “cassette recorders, 1/4″reel to reel recorders, computers, and battery powered portable recorders” all being used. This isn’t a negative; rather, the album’s lack of artificial polish adds to the realism of it. It’s embraced, used in its favour, providing a fuzzy warmth to a lot of the songs contained within. It’s even the source of the album’s title: not entirely hi-fi or lo-fi, but a comfortable medium in between.
Michael Philip Reed is also solely responsible for playing every single instrument heard on the album, and that’s no small feat with such an array of instruments used. His first love is piano, with keyboards and a Wurlitzer organ as an extension of that; his talent on that shows considerably throughout. He’s credited as playing everything from the standard guitars and percussion you’d expect from a rock band to a fair few that you might not expect: from stylophone, mellotron and clavinet to congas, banjo and penny whistle. None of the various instruments that find their way into the album feel gimmicky or unwarranted; they all suit the songs they’re featured on, finding their place among the other instruments in the mix.
The album comes in strong with ‘The Low Resistance’, an energetic piece of pop rock; this is a song that’ll lodge itself in your head and refuse to move out. (I speak from experience!) The guitar-led drive of it is hard to not get swept up in… but as the track heads towards its end, the rhythm makes way for a calm, comforting ambiance. It’s this that the next track picks up on: Neon Blue is a warm, nostalgic track, drenched in echoing vocal harmony. It feels fitting for peaceful summer evenings, with nothing to do but relax and be happy.
Other highlights of the album include ‘Let’s Pretend’, again showcasing Michael Reed’s knack for crafting catchy tunes: this is a pristine piece of upbeat pop, and while it was beaten out by ‘The Low Resistance’ for being caught in my head, it was a very close call. For those wanting funkier fare, the latter half of the album gives you Give Again. Infectious guitar riffs and a strong groove will ensure that you’re caught up in its rhythms. There’s a bounce to every word of it.
[Video Link for ‘Give Again’: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kMeXSanW-rA]
‘Favorite Side’ is a track of two different sides. It starts off almost dreamlike; Reed’s skill on the banjo comes out here, accompanied by echoey piano and building vocal harmony. It remains somewhat wistful with high, light lead vocals — then kicks in with keyboards to something far funkier and, for that matter, fun. It manoeuvres back into softness by the time the track’s done, but not before it’s taken you on a journey of its own.Reed’s voice is a versatile one. While it often serves as soft harmonic accompaniment, letting other instruments take the lead, there are certainly times when it comes strongly to the fore. The track The Problem displays both of these, with vocals shining through at parts and receding to hummed harmonies at others. Its guitar solo soars above the rest and then weaves back in, instruments in synchronisation playing around each other. One man’s manifold musical talents all working in tandem.
‘The Wars We Have Won’ is the album’s penultimate track, and it certainly feels like the approach to a climax. The music compounds in layers, building and building into –
‘Faking Blind’ is the showstopper of the album, where all the building complexity drops away to leave just one man and his piano – and a simple, stunning love song. It’s a beautifully affecting piece, with vocals soaring above the rich tones of the piano; I can’t help picturing it echoing from a concert hall, late at night, with rain pouring down outside.The video below shows one of Michael’s early takes, getting a feel for the song as he’s just written it; the version on the album presents a far stronger form of the song, a crescendo of a climax for ‘Medium Fidelity’. According to Michael, there’s even more to add: he has orchestral sections imagined and that he’d love to have recorded, bringing the song to its full potential.
But make no mistake: even in its simplified form, the song is wonderful. Hopefully, someday, the full version can come to fruition.
[Video Link for ‘Faking Blind’: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O2OxOwvypN4]
Medium Fidelity 2015-2017 is available on CD Baby as well as iTunes and , alongside Michael Philip Reed’s previous album Smallish 2012-2014.
‘Smallish’: Steam Powered Giraffe: https://steampoweredgiraffe.com/
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