This ‘Stephen Caulfield’ article was written by Ailsa McEwan, a GIGsoup contributor
For years Stephen Caulfield has been quietly exploring the realms of electronic music, experimenting with organic natural sounds and combining the two with simple lyricism to create atmospheric and emotive songs. Although growing up in a musical family primarily associated with bands, the Reading singer/songwriter and producer is something of a lone ranger when it comes to making music. He writes, records and produces everything himself and this is reflected in the often detached ambience of his music.
Recorded in his self-built studio overlooking the local park, Caulfield’s debut album Parkview is a peculiar mix of captivating mood music and distinctly average lyricism. This makes for a frustrating listen as the latter prevents the album from reaching its full potential and one cannot help but imagine Parkview as the purely instrumental masterpiece it could have been.
The soporific sounds of a mellotron set the dreamlike tone sustained throughout the album in opener Welcome to Nightfall. Similarly hypnotic moments occur frequently across the eleven songs; the ethereal quality to the guitar in the delay drenched In Time and the soothing piano of Rest Your Head On My Shoulder leave us in no doubt of Caulfield’s abilities to use innovative instrumentation and effects to create music that is both beautiful and bewitching.
Unfortunately though each song on Parkview is centered around Caulfield’s vocal lines and the absence of any masterful or truly thought provoking lyricism is problematic. You feel the itch take hold/Your mind’s broken/A common mistake to make/Doors wide open he sings on the opening track. Whilst on paper these words may appear inoffensive, when placed alongside the creativity and vision of his music they often come across as particularly weak and uninspiring. The album is packed full of lines like this, too vague to resonate with the listener yet not abstract enough to be considered edgy.
In rare instances the music moves from its trancelike ambience to more conventional upbeat guitar-based songs such as One Warm June Night. Thought it would be different/Not like it was before/Moving in the darkness/The light that you adore he sings over harmonious backing vocals and a driving bass line. Caulfield’s almost schoolboy rhyming without the presence of his usual experimentation with sound, both electronic and organic, means that songs like this are tuneful but unfortunately rather bland numbers.
Although the album plummets significantly in the lyrics department, Parkview is commendable for its instrumentation and Caulfield’s exploration of the environment around him as a musical medium. Beneath the harmonium and layered vocal harmonies of closing track Fading Light subtle percussive clunks can be heard: the opening and closing of the studio windows. To Caulfield anything can be turned into an instrument and he is a pioneer of sorts when it comes to merging these natural sounds with computer generated ones to create something truly unique.
It is regrettable that an album so engaging musically should be let down by poor lyricism but nonetheless, Parkview may still be of interest to some for its curious instrumentation and fusion of electronic and organic sounds. Arguably, the music is mesmerising enough alone and an instrumental album may have made for a more stimulating listen, but at the end of the day Parkview is Caulfield’s baby and no one else’s; we must accept it for what it is. It is unfair to state that Caulfield is a terrible lyricist, or singer for that matter, but when found in this context his words are merely unremarkable. Not for a second do we doubt the sincerity of his words, but the artistry of his music merits something much, much greater.