Oliver Downes presents an impressive, surprisingly varied debut with Ultraviolet

Independent Sydney artist Oliver Downes is proving to be a promising up-and-coming name. Teaming up with art-folk trio The String Contingent, Downes presents an impressive debut to say the least. Ultraviolet sees the singer/songwriter bringing twinkling piano melodies, subtle percussion work and on-point lyrics together in a well thought-out, deliberate piece of downtempo pop.

oliver downes

Artful melodies, swelling strings and brooding lyrics are all ingredients in Oliver Downes’ Ultraviolet, a dramatic debut album from the Sydney newcomer.

Ultraviolet is an exploration in just how varied a piano, a string section, minimal percussion and vocals can become. At times melancholy, at times viciously paced, Downes’ record brings a sonic variety not often seen in such a setup.

Echoing the great sombre songwriters such as Nick Cave and Leonard Cohen, Downes’ lyricism is a true stand-out feature of Ultraviolet. In the first half of the record, Hang and Abide possesses a poetry in it’s simplicity. Simple, infrequent piano chords give way to high-end melodies later in the track, complemented only by slow strings and vocal accompaniment.

Heat of the Day follows a similar structure, with the addition of some very subtle brush percussion and something that sounds like scratches on string instruments. This last effect has a disconcerting effect that draws in the listener – at times it sounds like birds chirping and at others it sounds like the high-pitched string staccatos heard in horror film soundtracks. A low-fi, compressed guitar solo finishes off this track in an unexpected but interesting manner.

On both of these tracks, Downes channels Thom Yorke in his off-kilter, haunting vocal style, as comfortable with held-out, emotional wails as he is with a lower-end that is melodic yet eerily close to a speaking voice.

Line of Sight is a more upbeat, uplifting track which includes some neat chorus work throughout the track. Downes takes on faster vocals here in accompaniment to swifter piano work. The following track Fail Safe gets seriously cinematic towards the end, with another surprise guitar solo leading into a total lyrical bridge.

At times sounding like early James Blake releases without the trippy synth work, the stripped back piano-and-singer style fits Oliver Downes snugly. It allows the songwriter to switch between sombre and soaring moments effortlessly, reaching highs and lows and jumping between genre styles throughout Ultraviolet’s track list.

If you buy into any breed of acoustic pop, you’ll find a taste of what you like with this record. For a debut, Downes shows noted variation in style. Into the Sun is upbeat dream pop and album closer Paper Heart boasts cute, American folk-esque breakdowns sandwiching it’s choruses.

If you want to catch Oliver Downes on the live front, you can catch him as soon as tonight at the Ultraviolet album launch at the Wesley Anne in Northcote, Melbourne. All the details are on the Facebook event right here.