Is it too early to call this the debut album of the year?
Wow. That certainly blows away the cobwebs! ‘Superhuman’ is the debut album from British duo, Ferris and Sylvester, and it’s fair to say that if it doesn’t get your blood racing, you may want to check for a pulse. This is an exciting album that is equal parts attitude and outstanding musicianship, that grabs you right from the opening bars and maintains that grip throughout the album – it’s impressive stuff and, while the band has been building up a considerable reputation on the live circuit, prior to the pandemic, you have to wonder why there hasn’t been a lot more fuss made about this pair, though you suspect that may not be the case for much longer.
Apparently, The Guardian has described them as “an alt Simon & Garfunkel” and Mojo Magazine as “a masterpiece of Brit Folk”, which makes this reviewer wonder what Mojo and The Guardian writers have been listening to, because what I hear is some of the finest country soul encountered since the heyday of Delaney & Bonnie and much more Alabama Shakes than First Aid Kit (who they’ve also been compared to!). This is blistering music that slips and slides along, scoring shots with every track. It’s hard to believe the duo are British, given the way they seem to have nailed that Southern States, soul country sound. It’s funky, slinky, sassy, in your face one moment and slithering away the next; chock full of stops and starts and changes of direction that keep you guessing at what is coming. It’s a remarkably assured debut album. Opening with the title track, ‘Superhuman’, the duo set their stall out right from the off, kicking off with a growling, biting guitar riff and leading into the vocal harmonies that seem to come so effortlessly to them. Both Issy Ferris and Archie Sylvester have fine voices, Ferris’ being particularly notable, going from a purr to a growl in the space of a few bars, and Sylvester also plays a mean guitar. They seem to work together so naturally and it’s a shock to discover the duo have been together for a relatively short time, only combining their talents in 2019. Prior to that, Issy Ferris had been playing the London folk scene and Archie Sylvester was fronting a blues band. You get some of that Laurel Canyon sound on tracks like ‘Flying Visit’ and ‘Sickness’ and you can hear some of Ferris’ folk influences pushing these songs along but then Sylvester’s bluesy guitar starts to muscle in with little riffs and licks, without ever breaking the mood. It’s a clever combination that produces some excellent songs, such as the truly anthemic ‘This is How My Voice Sounds’, which starts as a simple voice and piano ballad that builds steadily until it becomes a gospel laden, full-throated howl driven by a burning guitar solo. It seems there’s not much Ferris & Sylvester don’t know about the need for dynamics, both in individual songs and in the compilation of an album and this recording sounds like every track has been carefully planned and then equally carefully placed in order to achieve maximum effect. It’s the sort of attention to detail you expect from seasoned veterans of the recording industry and to witness it with a debut album promises well for the future. Perhaps not without intention, the album closer is the track ‘Special’, which seems to sum up both the duo and this album.
All the songs on the album have been written by the duo and the quality of the songwriting is another impressive factor here, as they’ve cleverly combined their different musical backgrounds to maximum effect, so that their songs all seem to contain different styles and directions within the same song. Though they’re songs about the little events that make up normal, everyday lives they’re never predictable. Just as you think a song is going to turn out to be a fairly straightforward, folk-oriented ballad it will take a turn into a blues-rock riff or a touch of country slide. This is well-crafted songwriting.
The musicianship throughout is superb. Archie Sylvester plays some great guitar but mention also needs to go to really effective use of Hammond and Wurlitzer organs, predominantly from Michael Rendell, who also produced a number of tracks, and some great rhythm work from drummers Matt Ingram, Taylor Carroll and Alex Wadstein. Ryan Hadlock also deserves recognition for the production work that he put in. This is such a complete album that it feels like every contributor ought to be acknowledged but, when it comes down to it, this album is all about the duo at the heart of it and they deserve full recognition for what is one of the albums of the year in a year that has already produced a large amount of outstanding music.