VC Pines - a.k.a Jack Mercer - has carved his way through the British music scene as frontman of The Carnabys, and recently has embarked on his own solo project, moving away from the Indie Rock sound of his previous oufit. As for where he’s headed, it’s hard to pin down. Indigo, the debut EP from the VC Pines project, is an EP that sounds unlike anything I’ve ever heard. It could be classified as Alternative Soul, but even that doesn’t seem to fit, and that’s what makes this 5-track collection, complete with Mercer’s incredibly distinctive voice and songwriting, an essential piece of listening.
The EP opens with lead single “Garden of The Year”, a clear highlight straight off the bat. Ablaze with pulsating synthetic undertones, and a slapping electronic beat, this track is both the furthest from Mercer’s previous work, and the closest at the same time. “Written in a moment of nostalgia, re-living teenage moments of jealousy and paranoia”, it truly shows, as the youthful energy he is famous for exudes this track in spades. This track also introduces what I see as the main trick of this EP - an explosive chorus that does very little musically, a clear demonstration of the melodic and vocal ability to carry a song that Mercer holds oh so well.
This is followed up swiftly by the beautiful slow burner “Vixen”, the most organic track here. A sonic masterpiece from front to back, “Vixen” deals with the different forms of mental vacancy, but it’s through Mercer’s fantastical lyricism that it paints a far greater picture for the listener. A prime example, the lyric “quiet in the dark while the vixens cry”, descends from deeply sung to spoken word poetry in a matter of seconds, before launching into the chorus, and it’s a deeply satisfying experience that paints a far greater image in the head than the track ever intends to. It’s worth noting that the EP includes a moving live performance of “Vixen” as a bonus track, which really tantalises anyone wondering how these songs - and Mercer’s incredible voice - translate into a live setting. Check out a video of this performance at the end of the review.
After these two tracks, we are greeted with the first of 3 new songs on the EP. “Kinbaku”, a track that starts off sounding not unlike an early Arctic Monkeys slow burner, very quickly strays as far from that vibe as possible when the skittering electronic beat drops in. A track apparently inspired by post-war Japanese photography, this is far and away the most unique track on the EP, and in reality, needs a comprehensive listen to truly understand. This gives way to the title track, “Indigo”. Put so sweetly by the man himself as “a reminiscence of the first time I saw my better half and how when everything around me at the time seemed so dark, she brightened things up a wee bit”, it’s certainly the most down to earth track here, and a nice way to cleanse the palate a little before the the closing number, the great “Nervous”.
Now, “Nervous” is a track I had to play a few times to truly wrap my head around, but it has grown to become undoubtedly my favourite on the EP. “Written during a period of social anxieties and constant butterflies”, it sticks hard to its title, but explores many different aspects of itself at the same time. “I’ve got the devil on my shoulder/whispered me into a coma” Mercer sings, placing heavy blame on himself, regardless of who is truly to blame for the extreme anxiety on display here. What really highlights the track for me though, is the arrangement on the chorus. As mentioned earlier, this EP often has the neat trick of building an explosive chorus with very little instrumentation, and it’s here this truly shines. As Mercer sings “When I’m nervous/I want to take myself away and disappear”, the guitars subtly drives up in pace, but the drums neglect to do the same thing. This gives the chorus the effect of continuing the downbeat vibe of the track, while still giving it that accented driving factor, an effect I absolutely adore. It’s great, and it’s certainly an idea I wouldn’t be surprised to see used again in the future. But then again, I could say that for just about every track on this EP, and that’s exactly why it demands your attention. Indigo is available to download and stream now.
VC Pines will be playing at Brighton’s ‘The Great Escape’ festival in May, as well as dates in Bristol and Manchester in June. Having recently played a sold out show at the Lexington in London, VC Pines puts on a show that is not to be missed. For more details and tickets, check out VC Pines on Facebook.
Frederick French-Pounce is the host of Back to Mono on COOL MOVES RADIO.