Oh Minnows, indeed, Oh Minnows. Where to start? Well they're not a band, they're a person. A person by the name of Chris Steele-Nicholson, he formerly of the group Semifinalists. Now happier to swim in his own pond, 'For Shadows' represents Chris's debut solo album.
The singer, song writer, vocalist and multi-instrumentalist has certainly produced an album rich in texture. There is nothing one dimensional, offensive or objectionable about any of the tracks. There is depth, cohesion and artistry at work among the obviously creatively fertile set penned and played by Steel-Nicholson.
'For Shadows' starts with mellow, rather than pulsating, passion as 'Another Volunteer' eases us in. The vocals are all tempered, refined, balanced, even considered and so consequently a little banal. The backing track is pleasant enough but never really engages the listener. It's all a bit too nice. 'At The Rehearsal' may have a nod towards the past with its Moroder like cinematic soundscape but it at least ventures into the contemporary arena with a great latter half of near white noise creating a souring Cathedral of sound. 'If You Had' bounces along with a Gorilla like looping synth hook but again it is the bland vocal that lets the otherwise interesting and individual potential of the track down.
'A Performance' follows on with some well crafted harmonies that have been lavishly layered over the intriguing score. 'Trade', one of the better tracks on For Shadows, then takes the listener on a far more captivating journey. The machinery rhythms pound on through Beatle esq vocalisation until an apocalyptic wall of sound crashes through to accompany Chris's high vocal. Here the combination of industrial synth, electro, drums and cacophonous noise works well set to the almost angelic and choral vocals. Elsewhere, sadly, Steel-Nicholson's voice is as character laden as any manufactured boy band's. It hits all the right notes, sings beautifully at times but still doesn't do enough to make each track mesmerising or memorable.
The instrumentation and quality of music on 'For Shadows' is such that a pure instrumental arrangement of certain tracks may have produced a better final result. Whilst Chris may have a wonderful voice fit for any choir, it falls short of captivating the listener. Although the vocal is never in danger of fighting with the music it would make a change for it to at least challenge rather than being as passive as it currently is. The score is generally not ambient or soft enough, with the possible exception of 'Everyday', to merit such timidity and reservation.
Going it alone has its benefits. Your individual self indulgent tenancies can be realised and one's own creativity can be unleashed without harness or criticism. However I think Chris Steel-Nicholson could have produced something really special here had he had, or enlisted, some more help. Those that write great songs aren't always necessarily the ones that are found to be the best at expressing or interpreting them. 'For Shadows is not a bad album, but it could easily have been better.