Kind of Promise, a four-track acoustic EP of songs taken from German indie band Pictures’ debut album Promise, was released today on all major online platforms.
Pictures, who have already supported DMA’s and Kaiser Chiefs on the German legs of their tours and soon open three more dates for Paul Weller, are in good form at the moment having just finished a slew of German festival slots. They’re also looking forward to a headline tour across the country coming in December and January 2018. And this EP shows the progression of the songs of Promise and how their vocals have been honed on the road by Pictures’ frontman, Jonas and Union Youth legend Maze Exler.
Three of these songs are already available as live acoustic performances on YouTube, a couple of which from Exler and Guitarist Ole Fries’ first gig as Pictures back in 2014. However, the versions on Kind of Promise are much more spruced up and polished with some very interesting arrangements to counteract the potential dullness of acoustic translations of already-loved songs.
It’s often said (maybe only by me) that Exler and Fries could be the German Lennon and McCartney. And here, the genius of Fries becomes obvious. There’s something to be said for having someone in a band who’s really superb when it comes to production and Fries – who amongst other jobs worked as a live engineer for Exler and drummer Michael Borwitzky (whose battered kit gets a well deserved rest here) during their Union Youth days – is just that. The tracks are mixed superbly with some really innovative backings not limited to just two acoustic guitars behind a singer.
Even Kind of Promise’s title is an interestingly ambiguous play on words. You’d think, with all the lyrics in English, that ‘kind of’ would simply mean ‘variations on’. But I think it sounds more fitting when the addition is taken as German – in that case it would translate to ‘child of Promise’.
And that perfectly sums up the essence of this EP. I perhaps wouldn’t recommend these stripped back versions to someone who’s never heard Pictures before, but a bit of YouTube research (especially the official 2016 studio sessions) should bring them up to speed enough to enjoy these different renditions.
The first track is the powerful Save My Heart which provided Promise’s most heartfelt and emotional number. Although I still have a slight preference for the equally stripped-back live version of one electric guitar and a vocal, this is nonetheless an interesting recording. What makes it is not the bare, (even more) exposed and emotive vocal with the live alteration to the first main chorus “I’m gonna change your life” or the simple, sparse, almost metronomic acoustic guitars which are just enough to maintain the tune. It’s the quiet background synth which builds up and maintains a thick, moody atmosphere to perfectly compliment the song’s contemplative mood and if anything give it a darker undertone than its original and live incarnations.
An aloof, ethereal version of Pictures’ signature song Down Under the Hill comes next to complete a strong, experimental first half. It begins with a meandering, reoccurring elecro-woodwind backing which adds something to the first two-thirds of the song before layered acoustic guitars take over. At times then, it feels almost as though it is layered slightly too much for a simple acoustic offering and sails close to the wind of being a carbon-copy of the original with minus drums and bass and with an acoustic guitar put high in the mix. But it’s saved by an incredible, effortless vocal performance by Exler, which grows with the song and is more expressive than we’ve ever heard him on record, even on the more grungy early Jonas songs.
The fantastic Fall, played in a not dissimilar format on FluxFM to promote Promise, is a more straightforward acoustic translation than the previous tracks. The quiet moments are what makes this, with attention only on the vocal, words and understated backing of this folky version. The fantastic electric guitar licks added to the original as it reaches its crescendo are noticeably absent, but the melodic acoustic guitars are more than adequate compensation although not a like-for-like replacement. The layered vocals and guitars and a touch of synth to draw this to a slightly more busy close don’t feel out of place or interfere with the more relaxed mood of the first minute-and-a-half.
See the Sun isn’t my favourite song from Promise, but it is nonetheless an interesting listen. Here, like Fall, acoustic guitar takes the place of a bit of decorative electric on the original. The reverby vocal fills the sonic space left by the stripping back of the band and Fries and Exler create a meaty sound as this track wears on, comparable almost to the Promise version. This nonetheless sounds fresh thanks to its unplugged format and more moody, quiet moments. The lead guitar line also gets more room to gain attention later on.
All in all, the first two songs are the highlights and contain some superb ideas beyond a basic ‘live’ acoustic recording. The latter two are very passable old-school acoustic versions of two Pictures favourites. if you’ve enjoyed seeing Pictures on tour or are craving something else after Promise, these reworkings might just be what you need. Critics said that Paul Weller’s solo acoustic live album Days of Speed may not attract many new fans but would delight those who already liked the songs and the Modfather and would appreciate their variations, and the same is true of Kind of Promise.
Find all the download and streaming links to Kind of Promise here.