Aiden Grimshaw – ‘Misty Eye’: 8.8
It wouldn’t be too much of a crime to assume from what we already knew about Aiden Grimshaw that an album under the name ‘Misty Eye’ was going to see him trudge through pre-suicidal, downbeat mood swings set to a barely-there production; the kind of music that’s minimalist but also takes a lot of effort to listen to, and a lot more to appreciate. Imagine HURTS mixed with drum and bass influences and that’s sort of what the majority had in mind. And in many ways ‘Misty Eye’, an album that Grimshaw calls “a journal” of his experiences with love, is an embodiment of that only, there’s no sign of the twenty year-old getting complacent as a result of the dizzying inertia of unquestioning self-confidence The X Factor often exerts on its protégées. It’s become a staple comment about Grimshaw that his music is as far from that of your typical X Factor alumni as you can feasibly get, and the rest of the album religiously follows suit. There is a brief moment during ‘Poacher’s Timing’ where the track begins to sound like an old Adele record given a much-needed sonic make-over, but this hardly deteriorates it’s deeply earnest convictions. Other than that, there’s no sign of any cheesy, coming-together-in-unity styled songs that litter many past winners and non-winners débuts. There’s no sign of big-name producers or guest-spots, and nor does it stink of non-cohesion posing as eclecticism. It’s a tightly succinct record bound together by personal insecurities and uplifted by apparently trivial ideas that everyone can relate to, even if they’re dressed up in lyrical abstractness like “There’s a fiery eye in the middle of the dark sea” – love, after all, is far from a linear emotion.
And as such, ‘Misty Eye’ isn’t a conventional record, hell; it’s not even a very fun record. It’s sternly straight-faced and self-conscious when it’s aware people are listening and only when the drums kick in for an enormous, stratosphere-piercing chorus does it finally let it’s inhibitions and deepest inner-most fears come flooding outwards with Aiden’s trademark – and often intoxicating – intensity, like it’s dancing in the dark and no-one can see. This bi-polarity is best seen on the storming ‘This Island’ and trailer single ‘Is This Love?’ both of which are coated in electro-grungy anguish with metallic synth clashes and deep, guttery vocals, before erupting into a chorus of sky-flying falsetto and lighters-aloft melodies. The album’s style sees it contently dance to its own subdued tunes and macabre melodies in the no man’s land between Instagrammed Goth-pop and drum and bass, forming something rarely seen before on a scale as intensely intimate yet accessible and relatable as what’s on display here. ‘What We Gonna Be?’ sounds like it might cause the album to be weighed down by trying to fuse too many styles too early on by incorporating elements of hip-hop and grime, but as the final minute shows, it merely strengthens the notion the ‘Misty Eye’ really is its own record, and that the genes of the seven tracks to follow it are just as ludicrously diverse but so carefully constructed, the result being an album that feels expertly precision-cut, but not contrived or calculated in the slightest.
Grimshaw’s voice, for the majority of the record, spends it’s time hung in the desperate limbo of simply not knowing. You’d be forgiven if by the end of the album’s ten-track run you feel his message of hopelessness has worn thin, because even when he takes a short break from the unlucky-in-love theme, like on ‘Be Myself’, just from the title alone it comes across as a thematically lead-heavy track about coming-of-age self-discovery which can prove demanding on the listeners’ empathy. It’s certainly possible to empathise with his soft whisperings on the track, but in the midst of the dizzying synths and stomping drum loops which will still be buzzing in your ear long after every other track, part of these more gentle moments lose their appeal, the plea for clarity from confusion left answered as it gets drowned out by bigger, louder and bolder sounds.
His voice either daintily floats or powerfully soars over the production – which has a confidently slick, polished feel that stuns for a début record – giving him the appearance of some intangible ghostly entity, and yet you can still imagine him at a microphone, his body rigid and his eyes shut tight, pouring out his heart with every line. He reaches his most vulnerable on the album’s three final tracks, and it’s possible to say that by the time ‘Curtain Call’ draws a much-needed close to an album of sometimes exhaustingly moodily dramatic affairs, the soulful pleadings of Sherelle with such a basic cry to a lover – “Give me all your love please” – can feel like a step too far, but when taken away from the album it makes perfect sense as one of the few tracks that strips itself of abstract pretension – it’s the most typically-structured song on the album and for that reason it stands out as the most relatable; Grimshaw may sound like he’s utterly incapable of joy on it, but it’s a suiting performance to encapsulate those moments of depressed love-drunkenness if you can stomach it.
‘Misty Eye’ stands out as a triumph for Grimshaw. Recorded in what he playfully dubs a “shed” in producer Jarrad Rodgers’ back garden after finishing seventh on an X Factor series that kick-started the huge careers of One Direction and Rebecca Ferguson, to see such verve to carve his own niche in the face of an industry sounding blander than ever on the eve of the return of the X Factor’s ninth series is surely enough to question the show’s validity as a credible pop cultural entity. ‘Misty Eye’ may prove a challenging listen at first, but given the time it deserves it provides listeners with something far more real than a lot of past X Factor acts’ album – in this journey through monochromatic monoliths of hybrid genres, Aiden provides an understanding and a fearful reverence of the maddening loneliness that we all strive to evade.
Download: ‘Hold On’, ‘Is This Love?’, ‘What We Gonna Be?’, ‘This Island’, ‘Poacher’s Timing’, ‘Curtain Call’.
Digital Release: August 20, 2012
Physical Release: August 20, 2012