Sean McGowan – Graft and Grief (EP Review)

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It’s a rarity for an artist so young to produce lyrics with such maturity and insight, but within seconds of Sean McGowan’s new EP, Graft & Grief, he manages to tug on the heartstrings, offer up a cultured opinion on modern life, and still serve it all up within a positive message. All this happens before a guitar has even been picked up; that, dear reader, is an incredible opening to an EP.

Within the spoken word opener, ‘Gag Part 1’, McGowan sets the scene for a release which, within its seven tracks, maps years of songwriting and hard work both on and off the road. The positive message within the poetic opener perfectly flows into ‘No Show’ the musical opening of the EP. This tale of a post-education wasteland and the state of employment options for young people is set to a rolling bassline and catchy guitar-line. There’s a lyrical bitterness, too, which touches a nerve and will be relatable for anyone who has had a job they hate (or no job at all). The chorus elevates the track to the kind of rousing heights expected of fellow Xtra Mile artists Frank Turner, Beans on Toast and Ducking Punches.

As the EP moves forward musical reference points are passed with nods towards the rhythmic vocals of Cap N Jazz and Hot Club De Paris. Lyrics are written with poetic detail to create rhythmic spikes, perfectly complementing the musical backing. This level of detail takes everything to a higher level without losing any of the power or the message.

Channeling the great voices of political and social minded artists, ‘Clear Conscience’ has the vocal snarl of Joe Strummer, the colloquialism of Billy Bragg, and the occasional fragile cracks of an Owen, Frank Turner, or any road-worn acoustic punk. Within ‘Costa Del Solution’ there are nods towards early Jamie T both vocally and lyrically; the vocal speed and wry lyrical humour create a clever dialogue, and the tropical ending nods towards reggae and ska. It’s the perfect missmatch between a summery ending and the cold hard truth of a poetic finale.

There are moments of folk, pop, punk and indie amongst the guitar parts and these take in more influences than can be listed and leave any space for reviewing. Each note has been carefully considered and there is a clear consideration to what these songs will sound like both alone and with a full band; each option has an intimacy and knack of building up the emotion. There are so many hooks hidden away that stick in the mind that with each listen, Graft & Grief embeds further and further into the consciousness. However, despite the hooks and sing-a-long choruses this is a long way away from a pop release; the lyrical passion and musicianship are firmly rooted in the DIY scene.

Graft & Grief is out on September 8th via Xtra Mile.