Track: Bishopskin – Mother’s Steel Bike

As the wait for their debut album becomes ever shorter, Bishopskin – one of the most unusual and intriguing outfits to have graced London’s alternative scene in recent years – have released a portfolio of singles which is impressive in breadth and depth alike. Listening to all of them back to back gives a good sense of how this band has managed to somehow maintain a high consistency of voice (and a voice personal to the point of idiosyncrasy it is, too, making the achievement all the more remarkable) while tackling a vast range of different songs, from the gentle ballad to the pop anthem, through the adaptation of a medieval hymn for a modern punk-folk audience. Their latest single, Mother’s Steel Bike, represents now the last piece of the puzzle. It may well be the key through which all the previous releases are to be interpreted, which adds one more layer of meaning to everything else. This is certainly apparent in the lyrics, which are deeply personal, to the point that one almost feels in places like we’re intruding on something very private and therefore very special; but it could be argued that it is even more so in the sound. 

We have just said of the impressive breadth of voice displayed in the previous singles: but here, more than anywhere else, is the depth. The composition in Bishopskin songs often operates in layers – it is one of the trademarks of the band, perhaps the one that makes their work most immediately recognisable – and that layered structure is especially apparent in this song. It starts slow, with the deception of walking into a ballad, and then it steadily builds, so that by the point that it reaches the chorus and the backing vocals come in, it is almost an explosion: the song’s whole horizon broadens, a soaring feeling comes in that is particularly apt for a band that is inherently attuned to spirituality, and there is a remarkable moment of psalm-meets-rock-song that might just be the most Bishopskin thing so far. In order to achieve this growth, and to make that payoff feel even more satisfying, the composition needs to be patient, and Mother’s Steel Bike feels like the polar opposite of the increasingly bite-sized, jingle-like tracks that populate recent charts: it takes its time where it needs to, lays its foundations before launching into the full realisation of its sound, and feels for this very reason even more accomplished. We live in a time in which an overabundance of stimuli almost forces us to have very short attention spans: this is a song that demands, and rewards, attention and concentration – in spite of the fact that its runtime is not really that long.

The other Bishopskin trademark is vocals, in the plural, in that the immediately recognisable deep bass of lead vocalist Tiger Nicholson is equally as unique as the blend of backing vocals courtesy of Tabitha Avanzato and Tati Gutteridge. It is undoubtedly the band’s luck that it can count on such an impressive array of unusual voice, but it is due to the cleverness of the composition that they are best deployed, and the singers have great chemistry with each other: there is something of choral music in the way they work together, yet another influence in a rather long list that includes old English folk music, classic rock ballads, more than one hint of post-punk, and here (check out, especially, the use of percussions) something out of prog rock. For such a soulful, liberating, intimate song, it must also be noted that the sound allows itself to become surprisingly dirty in places: which is appropriate, considering the very human feeling of reminiscence that the track is tapping into.Many of Bishopskin’s previous singles have felt intensely emotional: none as much as this one. Perhaps most remarkable of all is the fact that the emotion feels entirely unique, like there is nothing performative to it, and it is this stark honesty, at the end of the day, that truly represents the band’s strongest asset. With its ingenious composition, harmony of vocals, and many inspirations, Mother’s Steel Bike represents after all a very intimate moment, a laying bare of feelings which we have all experienced and which can be too hard to put into words at times. That, in the end, is what music is for, and that is what music does here, in what is one of the best single releases of 2023 thus far.

Check it out, here

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