Sounding a bit like Matthew E. White’s folkier cousin, Ain’t Saint John creates music that fits around his flat singing style and his prominent piano playing. But unlike Mr. White, the instrumentation on ‘The Grow Yourself EP’ is more decorative than dynamic, leaving all the creativity and personality to the singing and piano playing of John Mac Naeidhe himself.
This aspect of the production affects the music to varying degrees with opening track Snapdragon benefiting from it the most. A delay effect gives a pleasing flourish to the electric guitar while a simple bassline perfectly fits the quiet mood of the song. The subtle thematic changes are actually helped by the addition of a backing vocal here and there, and the arrival of a quietly distorted trombone tidies the song into a nice conclusion.
Half way through the second track Grow Yourself the production starts to draw a little too much attention to itself. It starts off with a beautifully soft piano melody which is reminiscent of a Chopin nocturne. A violin bridges the gap between the opening and the arrival of John’s vocal. Towards the end of the first verse however the drum starts to pronounce itself, becoming fully fledged around chorus-time. So it seems we have yet another folky album resorting to the conventional wisdom of sticking in a metronomic drum just for the sake of it.
And so this becomes the standard for the rest of the EP. Green Sea starts off with an airy looseness until the forceful drumming arrives and boxes the music into its strict beat while the genuinely gorgeous piano-led melody of Little Time tries desperately to stay above the flat repetitive alternation between kick and snare. The issue with drums on folky albums is that folk music generally doesn’t have the forcefulness to allow the drums to be creative, and so instead they turn the music into something it isn’t, namely folk rock.
The only place these drums don’t cause massive damage to the recordings is on the EP’s last two tracks, which are also the weakest numbers in which John’s previously shown talent for capturing vivid emotion with his piano seems lost to the duty of stretching out the EP. This is perhaps a disproportionate critique of one aspect of a record that largely shows its composer to be an artist of deft creative talents. For the beauty of the piano, the voice and the fragmented images of the lyrics, this is still a record that has commenced Ain’t Saint John’s search for his musical identity, and he’s on steady ground so far.