Mikee J Reds can usually be found singing and strumming with Call off the Search, a punk rock outfit from East Kent who bash out fast paced, high octane songs that will rock you into next Tuesday. Regular readers of these pages may remember they recently gave the Katy Perry song, “Teenage Dreams” a shot of adrenaline, all thumping, thudding drums and what I think I referred to as “primal virility”.
Alongside his work with Call off the Search, Reds is also pursuing a solo, acoustic career. In theory, you’d think this should mean quieter, more reflective songs. And while it’s true an acoustic guitar can’t really compete with its brasher younger electric sibling, Mikee J Reds still gives it a good pounding and manages to snarl his way through the lyrics like the best of them.
You’ll find two of his latest songs on the split EP, Countrysides which he shares with his musical idol, the Californian singer/songwriter Jonah Matranga. Reds follows Matranga’s wistful, new folky songs “Sweet Life” and “Secret World” (all Joni Mitchell meets the Moldy Peaches), with a couple of songs which are somewhat darker and far more angst ridden.
Despite the stripped back sound, “Living Well” remains as primal as any of Call off the Search’s plugged songs (as opposed to the unplugged ones we have on this EP). Here, the theme is of revenge. In particular, how “the best revenge is living well”. It comes complete with a strings: violins and cellos rising and falling on the song’s surface while Reds plus back vocals sings and strains over the top.
Such a line up of instruments wouldn’t normally lend itself to a military feel. The Band of the Cold Stream Guards has yet to experiment with string quartets and guitars while on the hoof outside Buck House as far as I‘m aware. Nevertheless, there’s a martial feel to the song here, supporting lyrics about “no war too big, no battle too small/we will take them all”.
The second song, “Old Skin” is as angst ridden as the last. Here, rather than seeking revenge of wrongs done, Reds sings about the pain of old wounds and a sense of dissatisfaction with life (“Is this really the best we’ll ever get?”).
There’s nothing particularly new to the lyrics. They’ve been the common staple of Emo and sad songs in general since the dawn of time – if not before. There were probably amoebas in the primordial soup singing songs about the pointlessness of their existence before they crawled out of their swamp.
But that doesn’t really matter. Even Shakespeare used old stories for his plays, so let’s cut Mikee J Reds a little bit of slack. Besides, who hasn’t ever asked “Why is this happening to me?” or wanted to find “a land I can run to…so I can escape from this God forsaken race”?
“Old Skin” is a great song, full of Flamenco guitars and an encore from the strings beneath a Roddy Woomble-esque vocal. It’s gorgeous, impassioned and really quite beautiful.
In these two songs, Reds has set himself (and meets) a tough challenge. Both “Living Well” and “Old Skin” might, on the face of it, be more suited to a bigger, electric sound, such as you’d find coming from his band, Call off the Search.
By stripping things back, adding the brake and a fair bit of restraint, Reds has produced for himself a couple of rather splendid acoustic songs.