Sam Bishop in a Cold Kingdom

Streaming killed the download star; you have to be of a certain age to get that joke. Feeling my age today, I remembered standing in a record shop in awe at this heavyweight 10” silver disc and being told it’s read by a laser rather than a needle. Laser, beyond cool, like Star Wars.

Yet where this futuristic “laser-disc” failed, the compact disc was literally a year away. I think our Dad tried to work out what was the A-side and what was the B with our first CD! Spurring this memory was when I had to pop upstairs and launch my phone at my daughter, as I know we’ve got her this spotty-fly app, or whatchamacallit, and within moments confusion was over, I was lent her phone to take a listen to this new EP I was sent. Now all I have to work out is how to Bluetooth it to my speaker!

Notwithstanding, leaving a near teenager without a phone in the house for over ten minutes is a highly dangerous risk, you can blame local singer/songwriter Sam Bishop for my senior moment. If I’ve told him to send me a simplified method of listening to his tracks once, I’ve told him a thousand times (there’s a pun to follow there.) Still he sends me this baffling set of streaming website links, and I feel like my perplexed father staring muddled at his own reflection in a CD.

Four tunes in length, Cold Kingdom presents Sam’s latest material. The first tune, A Thousand Times (there’s the pun, see what I did?)I reviewed as a single back in June. Likewise, with the third tune, Cry For Help, which was in September. In June Sam explained, “This song is hopefully the first song of many under my own name. I already have another two completely finished, which hopefully will be released as a double over summer. There may be an EP before the end of the year, but we’ll have to wait and see.” So, Cold Kingdom comes in the nick of time to conform.

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I said of A Thousand Times, at the time, “a breezy indie-pop affair it is, dour and atmospheric with that theme of heartbroken youth so apt for Sam’s hauntingly distinctive vocals. With slice of maturity, this is nice work, but akin to his work with Finley Trusler as Larkin, almost a natural progression.” And I stand by that, a great opening.

Although I was slightly more critical of Cry For Help. Sam claimed it to be “the most heartfelt and vulnerable song I’ve ever penned.” And I commended and concurred, it was lyrically one of Sam’s best to date. Yet I had to say, compositionally it wasn’t my cup of tea, when compared to A Thousand Times. While through the atmospheric temperament it reigns more pop ballad than perhaps indie. Hence why I mention the age thing, as I’d contemplate this single isn’t aimed at me; my daughter saved it on her playlist. I only teeter on that, it has scope to grow on me.

The EP has a balance. Eternity, with its modest up-tempo guitar riff is both clever and catchy, more my thing. Yet if it only reaffirmed my admiration for Sam’s voice and songs, the finale, Broken Mirror, I think knocks it out the park. Here’s a direction I can identify with, encapsulating all which has gone before; a four-year journey from Devizes Sixth-Form boyband 98 Reasons to the divide, a duo with Finley Trusler as Larkin, to hopes for a solo career through his current music studies. Broken Mirror spurts it back at you with a progressively defining track which in my opinion, could be the magnum opus we’ve been waiting for from Sam, at least to date.

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Sam & Finley back in the Larkin days

Fans of Sam and/or Larkin will not be disappointed, indie-pop admirers should take heed; Cold Kingdom is melancholic yet enriching, and it reaches to a place in the soul, particularly the youthful abyss of yearning, misunderstanding and a quest for passion. A grand effort, Sam. Do check it out here.


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