the riverZero She Flies is a folk-rock band from Bristol formed from the ashes of pop-rock outfit Mermaid Kiss and although all three members had been involved with the previous band at various stages, the first recordings from ZSF feel very much like a new beginning.  The band made their debut in May 2015 with standalone track ‘Small Mercy’, giving listeners a fair idea of what to expect from upcoming material.  Their first EP, ‘The River, released a couple of months later,  features four tracks associated with water, thus making it a concept release of sorts.  That’s concept in a “linking theme” sense as opposed to carrying a definite narrative stretched out to its thinnest point over a double elpee, so those looking for more Broadway lambs, walls built from arrogance and general pomposity can swiftly move along…  Stoking up the folk elements, on these four numbers, Zero She Flies often carry sparkles of Caravan and Renaissance, but always with their own twist, and it would be fair to say that listeners who enjoy the occasional folky lilt and a strong female voice will find an affinity within at least three of these four tunes.

Clearly knowing their way around a melody, with the piano riff opening ‘The Riverboat’, the band goes straight in with an absolute killer.  Played by guest musician Jonathan Edwards (sometime of Welsh rockers Panic Room), the main melody has a circular feel and is very, very reminiscent of ‘Chloe Dancer’ by Mother Love Bone – something probably unintentional, but certainly not a bad thing.  If this doesn’t please your ears almost straight away, there’s possibly something wrong with you.  Bringing in Maria Melewska’s vocal, her wistful tones greet the melody with ease as she tells a tale of folk upon the river; moving into the chorus, her voice at first appears a little too high, but once you’ve tuned in, it’s a very natural performance.  The music continues to impress; a soaring violin brings a very strong countermelody while an oboe – arriving at the eleventh hour – strengthens a connection with late 60s/early 70s folk-prog.  In all, an impressive opener, before the second movement, ‘The Riverboat, Part 2: The Undertow’ changes mood completely. Taking the listener on an electronic trip full of looped drums and beats in a System 7 style, Zero She Flies are clearly not an outfit who want everyone to pigeonhole their sound straight out.  Filling space, various electronic sounds grumble much in the way of an experimental piece by Future Sound of London, while the off-kilter loops continue apace. Looking past those heavy rhythmic qualities, you’ll still find more of the folk-ish elements that began this musical journey, of course – and in this case, another simple but haunting oboe line provides another top melody almost throughout, it’s old English tones slightly reminiscent of Caravan.  If the intention here was to make the listener feel as if they were being carried off with the current – but not necessarily being pulled under – it has succeeded well.

A strong rhythm leads off the short ‘Watertight’, the marriage of Jamie Field’s acoustic guitar and Maria’s lead voice hinting at Steve Rothery’s work with The Wishing Tree.  Influences from British folk rock make a swift entrance once more with a choir of male voices unashamedly aiming for a traditional melody a la Steeleye Span, before some even stronger harmonies carry this number admirably.  Although the EP’s least original sounding piece, thanks to a crisp guitar and strong vocal performance it sits well among the other numbers without sounding too twee.  Bringing back a few more electronic sounds and keyboards, the epic ‘River Girl’ employs another lovely piano melody, over which bells and drones lend the feeling that it might drift further into electronica once again, but a soaring vocal and spacious arrangement – dominated by piano and violin – win out.  For the most part, the vocal, piano and violin do just enough to keep interest afloat, but the belated introduction of Shane Webb’s bass and a fairly sedate drum loop lead to a rather thoughtful climax.  …And as everything falls away, leaving only piano and spoken voice, the feeling left is one of feeling of detachment from a settled existence.  As the protagonist muses her last thoughts (“I pull you from the river, more beautiful than I am…but I’m me and I’m still breathing”), the effect of including a brief spoken passage is very powerful, bringing this quartet of tunes to a close with a genuinely haunting beauty.  A few listeners may pick up hints of Marillion’s 1993 masterpiece ‘Brave’ in this combination of ambient sound and floating melody; maybe it’s the quiet reflection, maybe it’s the presence of water, maybe it’s coincidental…but with that, the river ebbs away and Zero She Flies leave us wanting more…

This four song journey down ‘The River’ brings just enough quirkiness to pique the interest of those who enjoy atmospheric rock, while often retaining a very specific and much stronger appeal for those who love The Wishing Tree and those more pastel shades of All About Eve. This may only be a short release, but there are no weak links here and it’s obvious from the outset that by enlisting Jonathan Edwards for piano duties, a set of strong numbers was made even stronger.   Recommended.

July 2015