One listen to Mandy Bingham’s debut EP Volume 1 will have you convinced she’s a downtrodden country girl from south of the Dixie line, but I’ll dispel that illusion straight away. She’s from the Northern end of this little green island – I was as surprised as you are. However, don’t let that little geographical notion devalidate her brand of Americana for a second. It’s a style of folksy country that I’ve become very fond of recently, for a lot of reasons, and this EP is a fantastic example of why that is.
Firstly, we have “Turn Out the Light”, a track full of atmosphere from the first tinny guitar note. Echoing cymbals, a riff ticking over like an old pickup engine, and plenty of reverb just add so much depth below a haunting vocal. It’s ambience incarnate – something this style of music always has in bags.
Compositionally speaking, we have a strong chorus and a handful of little musical gears that mesh perfectly, all turning when they should. The peak of this track for me, is the instrumental piece; it’s dark, reminding me a little of Jimmy Page with a violin bow during a live Zeppelin set, but obviously not as cringey or long-winded. It’s used just enough to send the listener sinking into the track before leading back toward the final chorus. It’s all exceptionally executed, with the end product being a dusky feel that left me excited for track two.
“Calm Before the Storm” is of a similarly high quality, but not along the same vein. There’s an ethereal trait to the vocal here. It’s not as dependent on the musical backing for tone as the opener; this track is carried almost entirely by the ghostly voice and the calculated breezes of backing. When listening through, there’s this resonance inside your head that lets the song float around indefinitely. It’s character and skilful song-writing, neatly crafted into one.
“Oblivion” is the big festival moment of the EP, if you ask me. The kind of song a crowd could get behind and amplify, swaying the whole way along. At its high point, there’s some jazzy piano and melodic oohs that just scream main stage lights in the rain to me – one of those pieces that you’d happily listen to in an extended 9-minute form as part of a hypnotised crowd. The lead guitar makes a brief appearance, but it definitely leaves its mark, cutting the resonant oohs and bringing the track home. “Oblivion” is a different tone, yet again, but not in some cacophonic, winding road that leads nowhere – it’s substantial scope and Mandy Bingham’s range is shining through.
This is a live acoustic recording of Oblivion from March, but considering the EP hasn’t been released yet, it’ll have to tide you over until you can hear the studio version and hear it in all its glorious production.
“If This Is Love” is an intimate telling of a relationship gone wrong. Let’s be honest here, it’s not country unless there’s a song about abusive love or death – which is definitely not to say that we’re just ticking boxes, we’re far from that. We’re treated to a crying slide guitar to set the mood with some pretty sombre lyrics. The vocal is so full of raw emotion that anyone with a heart can’t help but be put into the thick of it and moved. It’s another tune right on the mark, if you ask me.
“The Chicken Song”, as a piece of music is simple enough, but I don’t think that’s where the genius of it lies. It’s hard to know what to expect when you see this title – that much is clear, but strangely enough, it’s a love song. Not just a love song, a cleverly written one.
It’s a narrative, playing off the idea of just unloading your feelings onto someone who may or may not be terrified by the idea. In the end, the need to say it all overwhelms any sense of caution, which is quickly left behind. It covers this idea everyone gets in their head, planning the details of their future with someone, from a cottage by the sea, bundles of kids, down to – arguably something in everyone’s picture of paradise – chickens in the yard.
“If This Is Love (Ryan Vail Remix)“ is the final track on the EP, and as the name suggests, it’s a reworking of the song two previous to this one. It’s the curveball of Mandy’s offering, trading bluesy country for melodic electronica. I’ll be trying to look at this as its own entity, rather than a remix of something I’ve just heard.
It’s nicely paced. The keys are beautiful and the heartbeat-style percussion is pure ambient. The synth is a crafty little lick in itself, too. However, for my personal tastes, it strikes me as someone who really likes The Knife and has decided to take a song that doesn’t fully gel with the style, but run with it anyway. It’s not a vocal I’d have chosen to accompany the music, to put it bluntly. In isolation, both aspects work, but when layered over one another, it’s just not clicking for me.
If I’d been asked, before hearing this track, if a song like If “This Is Love” could or should be worked into an electronic number, I’d probably have said no. Unfortunately, listening to it didn’t change my mind. It’s ambitious, but for me, ultimately lacking.
Overall, Mandy Bingham Vol. 1 is exactly what it should be; well-crafted Americana. Even with the remix in mind, there’s not a hell of a lot to criticise here. So, if you’re looking for music with a little more below the skin, this could be right up your alley.