Shoes and Socks Off - Miles of Mad Water
Miles of the Mad Water represents the fifth full-length album courtesy of Shoes and Socks Off (SASO) – the solo project of ex-Meet Me In St. Louis front man, and former Shield Your Eyes bassist, Toby Hayes.
Evolution has always been so vital to the project since its start – from the reworking of his debut release – From the Muddy Banks of Melitzer – to the expansion of his live show to feature a full live band, but Miles of Mad Water represents the biggest change to date. Moving away from his earlier, more 'traditional' (although you could never really call SASO that) acoustic singer-songwriters origins – a tag you suspect that he's never been particularly fond of – Hayes' latest output sees him drawing more heavily upon his experiment electronic influences than in previous offerings and easy comparisons can be made to Radiohead throughout the record.
The evolution of the SASO project is hinted at from the records' opener 'And No One's Seen Him Since' which is delicate and glitchy, but the progression really becomes evident by third track 'Lockjaw' – the first SASO track written entirely on a computer – with its pulsing beats and a chorus you can dance to.
Although all this is obviously not to say that there aren't elements of Hayes' early records here – 'The Doppler Effect', for example wouldn't have seemed out of place on From the Muddy Banks of Melitzer. While the gentler harmonies of 'All Mouth', complete with strings accompaniment, harps back to the more orchestral sounds of previous records.
In an odd way Miles of Mad Water feels somewhat like a SASO greatest hits collection, although even with so many different elements thrown together into the mix, the albums flows nicely – from the straight-up techno encased within 'But No' to the full band working of closing tack 'Incommunicado' – and somehow it just works and no track seems out of place on this record, which, in itself is one of its beauties.
Although musically diverse, lyrically, the album continues along themes familiar to fans of Hayes' previous works (both with MMISL and as SASO). With the release of Miles of Mad Water, Hayes' emotively personal narratives reinforces his status as one of the country's most underrated songwriters, a secret which is unlikely to be kept for much longer.
As with previous SASO records, it's difficult to pick out particular highlights as this album needs to be taken in as a whole to be fully appreciated, but what is clear is that Miles of Mad Water is Hayes' most accomplished record, showcasing his ever-continuing growth as a solo artist and songwriter.
Whilst still playing true to its forerunners, Miles of Mad Water represents the most dramatic evolution of the SASO project to date and the result is a brilliant and intricately layered record, which leaves the obvious question of just where Hayes will take us next; personally, my money's on a rap concept album in collaboration with Dad Rocks!
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