Our Resident reviewer Sam Shaw is back, reviewing Half Pipes’ most recent track ‘Smooth and Relax’; easy listening with a prog rock punch.
France exports great music:
Having visited France nearly every year now since around 2008, it is safe to say that I am more than accustomed to the French way of life. The casual café culture, the endless smoking of cigarettes and above all their love of great music. And I mean really good. France has produced some of the best musicians out there, from the wonderfully progressive Floyd-esque sound of Ange (if you like prog rock then stop reading this and go and listen to them instead), to Alain Mions’ terribly-hard-to-find-albums-of Cortex. Cortex still to this day remains one of the most sampled bands of all time, with the likes of MF DOOM sampling their tracks.
It is therefore obvious that France has an exceptional track record when it comes to producing. So, it comes as no surprise that the band Half Pipe, a four-piece (consisting of singer William Lecharmand, pianist Benjamin Nguyen, guitarist Oscar Vataire and drummer Mayeul Ogeron) hailing from Paris, have released yet another great single. I first came across the band when I met the lead singer, Will Lecharmand at university in 2019, so I have known of all the bands releases thus far. But what I can honestly say is that this is my favourite track of theirs yet. Of-course there are a few things I would change as I will talk about later in the review, but on the whole this track is a strong indicator that Half Pipe are starting to get really good at this music business.
The track itself:
So, the track. The single, titled “Smooth and Relax” – a title that foreshadows two key themes within the track’s atmosphere – is 3 minutes and 24 seconds of easy laid-back listening. Whilst shorter than previous works such as the epic that was “Back in The Days”, the track seems just as focused and packs just as much of a prog rock punch. This really is the kind of music you play watching the sun set from a beach or a beautiful hillside. You get the idea.
The track starts full on by setting the tone for the rest of the song, marrying the muted drum rhythms with some buttery organ chords, and topped by the beautiful high tones of the guitar – the latter being a sound that is a welcome return from songs previous. Will then comes in delivering a crisp synthesized set of lyrics which is intertwined with some fantastic staccato hits from the organ. The bridge features a vocal harmony from the second voice on this song, and it really serves to add a little extra on top of the instrumental melody. After the second verse we get a breakdown, which as seen in many psychedelic tracks, features a sort of metaphorical breakdown too, as the track takes a momentarily minor scale turn and has more vocal “noise”.
The breakdown eventually comes back up and leads into a guitar solo, which is in my opinion where the band could have really turned up the psychedelic feel – maybe throw in more of their epic guitar tones or have a Ray Manzarek style keys solo instead to give it that extra push. There is indeed a guitar solo in there but it is unfortunately really quiet, which is a shame because all great songs should feature a great solo section. Despite the lack of a good solo, the song goes into the final section and finishes with two vocalists bringing their elements in for the final verse. To give credit where it is due, the second vocalist that has featured on tracks previously, brings a very atmospheric and heaven-like tone yet again, which rings through to the end of the track.
Room for improvement:
Now before the review finishes, I did state there were a few things I would change, and up to now I have only mentioned one. The only other real change I would make is to use French vocals and lyrics, and this is a big one really. Whilst the lyrics are okay within Half Pipes tracks’ I think sometimes they are just put in to make the song rhyme and don’t possess any real message. This is a real shame as most of the greatest psychedelic/prog rock groups are famous for their powerful and deep lyricism.
Obviously I wouldn’t get any of the message if the lyrics were in French, but in my opinion the tracks Half Pipe are producing would be a really good match with the French vocal range and the French language in general. Maybe in future releases we will see Half Pipe taking a leaf out of Ange’s book and incorporating more of their mother tongue.
But other than that, Half Pipe have produced another great track here and it is great to see how much growth they are achieving in such a short amount of time. So, for fans of psychedelic rock, be sure to keep these on your radar. One day they might do a sell-out gig atop the Arc De Triomphe. And you wouldn’t want to miss out on tickets, would you?
READ MORE BY SAMUEL SHAW: Thirteen Dances by Johnny Butler: A step too far?