Releasing an EP is the first significant step a band or artist takes in their careers. Sometimes it can be a bold declaration to the musical world that you have arrived and are ready to carve your path, more often however its a tentative step, a process of putting your wares on display and hoping for constructive feedback to prepare for the eventual album. The Factory Settings EP from the Irish indie/electro band Columbia Mills is a perfect example of the latter, where some promising moments allude to their greater potential.Over its 4 tracks, Factory Settings shows a band who are still finding their feet. The strong songwriting is somewhat spoiled by the lack of a consistent style across all 4 tracks.
Opener, Never gonna look at you the same is in some ways the black sheep of this collection. The vocals seem to be lower in the mix and are at odds with the much more polished and spacious vocals found elsewhere on the EP. The guitar places an emphasis on crafting an atmospheric wash of sound, a method that works in most places but with the shoe-gaze inspired climax, becomes a bit of a cliche. Despite being a decent standalone track, if you had only only listened to Never gonna look at you the same, you could be forgiven for thinking that very little marks Columbia Mills out from a plethora of Indie bands.
Headlights and Factory Settings shows the band playing much more to their strengths and living up to their indie/electro moniker. The vocals are much more accomplished, with some beautiful harmonies combining to great effect with the more processed, electronic drum sound. Synths are much more apparent and the guitar work is more tasteful. The atmospheres are still there but not overpowering, allowing the focus to fall solely on the vocals, most evident in the stripped back lament of Fishbowl City.
It is not surprising that the most enjoyable tracks on Factory Settings are those where a little imagination is used, where adherence to preconceived conventions doesn’t hinder the stylistic freedom of the musicians.It is this sense of freedom that can make the difference between standing out and getting lost in the fog of similar acts. Hopefully Columbia Mills keep this sense of adventure in their music.