‘With inescapably idiomatic musicality and a multitude of influences, it will be in your head for days.’
Intro to B Bradshaw
Coming to my attention via BBC Introducing Cambridge a few weeks back, singer-songwriter-multi-instrumentalist Ben Bradshaw – better known as B Bradshaw – has a sound that sticks out for all the right reasons. Releasing his debut in 2019, the infectious ‘Oracle’ with its beats-and-swing edge wonderfully showcased a multitude of influences as well as his superb musicality. Casting the net wide, the initial track and his new release ‘Stuck’ – both of which were given a Guest Spotlight slot alongside an interview with Ellen Ellard – seamlessly combine pop, hip-hop and jazz while showcasing the prowess Ben has when composing for and performing on the instruments he knows best. Oh, and the production is solely Ben too! If his releases to date are anything to go by, B Bradshaw is most definitely going to be sticking around for some time.
Heading off with a combination of vinyl scratch, delicate bell chords, hip-hop style drums and live brass, we immediately get a taster of what is to come. Disparate individually, yet working together in the most wonderful way, these seemingly unrelated influences feel anything but. Securing the main groove of the track, it ensures you are moving from the word go and demonstrating just how well Ben knows his instruments, the idiomatic elements serve up musicality that sounds perfectly at home. Equally, in blurring the edges within this instrumental opening, as we enter the initial verse we get an opportunity to enjoy each fragment and the gentle exploration that occurs.
Rather than continuing in the opening manner, the accompaniment becomes incredibly sparse with everything given space. Highlighted initially via the noticeable silences between chord changes, you never really know where the next one is going to appear. However, achieving this in a balanced way, the keep-you-on-your-toes impression also holds a fantastic sense of rhythm and as a result, there is real structure where there could very easily not be. Additionally, with subtlety being very much apparent, chilled out finger clicks and deep bass keep the backing to lyrics wonderfully understated.
Delivered in a way that feels incredibly laid-back, Ben’s vocal carries a real sense of ponder-filled, yet precise musicality. On their own, it would literally feel like a relaxed stream of consciousness. However, with the aforementioned chords working as they do, the two unpredictably set elements form the most cohesive of sounds. Perfectly reflecting the words being sung, phrases such as ‘Maybe I’ve just been spending too much time in this house…’and ‘Doesn’t really matter to me’ occur in a brilliantly appropriate way while the re-emergence of the opening instrumental brings added purpose.
Signalling a development in sound, with the initial motifs reappearing they soon become decorated with naturally played passing melodies. Showcasing further idiomatic musicality, it’s the sort of delicacy that very much comes from within. Equally, transitioning seamlessly into the chorus, the atmosphere completely lifts causing any sense of sparseness to be cast aside. Here, in exploring the groove teased at the start, each element blends wonderfully with new material such as swelling synths, earwormy horn lines, distant bongos and soft, sustained vocal samples to generate a sound that, along with the lyrics, really will be stuck in your head for days.
Moving via the jazziest of trumpet link phrases to the mid-point of track, the texture returns to be centred around fragmented ideas that really highlight Ben’s creativity. Unlike before, the focus this time round is very much on percussive ideas rather than chordal. However, while this may be the case – with rhythmical clave hits that swiftly shift to finger clicks – there is, like before a great sense of structure. Achieving equal success, but in a tonal sense, spaced out bass lines also give a gentle indication of where tonal progressions are heading.
Elaborating on these further, as we continue through the hinted harmonics become subtly enhanced while everything else grows in a similar way. Distant synth warps build on the bass line. The main hip-hop drums return in an initially soft, yet purposeful way, and the creative connections between vocal phrases and their surroundings play a key role too. Generating a smile on the line ‘picturesque view’, the inclusion of rhythmic camera shutter really is a moment of inspired, cleverly thought out production.
Proving that this will remain the case right to the end, as the chorus resurges this time round each element feels even stronger than it was originally. Working in multiple ways, the previous contrasts of accented stabs and flowing melodies within the horn lines blend beautifully with their now completely polyphonic surroundings. Equally, the sporadic injections of piano cut through with ease while remaining among everything else. Instrumentally, there really is a huge amount to enjoy. However, not to be outdone by his own musicality, the vocals also shift to become even more multi-tracked and filled with interweaving echoes, we are taken to the tracks melodically centred conclusion in the most wonderfully chilled way.