Knightstown is the solo vocal/electronic project of Brighton-based composer and songwriter Michael Aston. He was signed to FatCat Records in 2016. We introduced him with the EP Keep. Now he announced the release of the first self-titled full-length which is out today. After the full streaming, he explains the new work track by track. Check it below.
One of the earliest songs I wrote for the Knightstown project. Was initially just a really simple slow track for solo vocals/keyboard and no beat. I had composed it in Glasgow and then recorded it quickly in Tom’s London studio, and then we just left it on the back-burner for ages. Much later Tom had the idea of putting an electronic beat against the hymn like vocal melody and turning the chant-like song into a dark ambient dance track. This curveball decision ended up influencing the development of other tracks on the album, such as Bitter End.
The lyrics are not anecdotal, but they tell a story from the perspective of someone who is trying to help another who is broken, but reluctant to open up and receive consolation that is being offered them. The repeated melodic/lyric phrases could be seen to reflect the appeals and attempts of the helper to get through to the person who doesn’t want to be helped. It’s a sad song which was composed during a happy time – I remember recording the demo in my new Glasgow flat while my flatmate was away, looking out the window on to balmy sunny evening, and feeling pretty good! For music nerds, the chord structure of the song could be heard to reflect the tension and lack of resolution in the story – of the 9 chords used in the main progression under the vocals, only one chord is a normal chord (D minor) – all the rest have inversions or extra notes in them that aim to give the music a bittersweet quality.
1. The most ‘nocturnal’ track on the record, it retains the dark mood of First Cry (same key and high falsetto vocals feature again) but feels more expansive and takes the listener on a deeper journey.
2. The lyrics are enigmatic, and the story switches perspectives between first and third person:
When we amended all the pages
What jewels we found
They eluded departing spies
3. Bitter End was initially going to be a slow track without a beat, but having a strong beat in the final version gives the song more depth and makes it hypnotic.
4. By the end of the track the music has modulated from D minor to G minor.
5. In spite of the dance-influenced beat the track feels quite contemplative.
1. Unusually a vocal-led dance track in 3/4 – it shouldn’t work but it really does I think, it remains one of my favouritetracks on the album that sticks in the head.
2. It betrays my love of catchy pop, albeit with darker undertones, and is the most uptempo and catchy track on the album.
3. Use of swung rhythms in the song points to my Irish roots – the indigenous music has lots of strong melodies with swung quavers.
4. The mood is a balance of hope and melancholy, making up one of my go-to ‘hybrid’ emotions. This is reflected in the tonal ambiguity of the song – you can’t tell whether it’s in Db major or it’s darker relative minor Bb.
5. Lyrical influence – Catcher in the Rye by Salinger – the lyrics suggest a pining for lost innocence in the context of messy challenging adulthood and adult relationships.
6. I am really pleased with the antiphonal choral elements in the choruses – and the layered vocal tunes in the final chorus section. Tom the producer also put in a super-low sub bass underneath the chord sequence which gives the track real impact I think.
1. One of the last songs we made for the album;
2. Started off life as a little extra idea or ‘coda’ at the end of another song from the record (called ‘Moon’). Tom and I recorded the idea separately and we realised it had a weird life of it’s own and now it’s a single!
3. Starts off in one key, ends in another – C sharp minor to F sharp minor (or a subdominant minor modulation for nerds);
4. Also starts off in one time signature (in 6/8) ends in another as a 4-to-the-floor dance track.
5. A single melodic hook holds the song together – hence need for change/metamorphosis in other areas.
6. One of the most lyrically dense tracks on the record, there’s a lot of meaning in this one.
7. Overt references to Huxeley’s ‘Brave New World’ which I had been reading was blown over by – I think is a prophetic
book and has enormous relevance in today’s society. Should be essential reading for everyone.
8. Interpretation of the song lyrics and the title are left to the listener.
9. A ‘charlatan’ is by definition ‘a person falsely claiming to have a special knowledge or skill’
10. Some of the percussion and instrument sounds on the track influenced by a song I was listening obsessively to atthe time – a track called ‘Bread’ by Laura Mvula.
Eyes Open Wide
Lyrically the song is an abstract meditation on the quest for happiness and the sublime. The lyrics are deliberately cryptic and I want interpretation to be left to the listener. I am quite influenced by the philosophy that there is more to reality than what we see/hear/touch/taste/smell/perceive. Reality isn’t confined to what we experience with our bodies and minds.There has to be more.
The song feels to me like a sonic rebellion against the days I have to spend glued to my phone or laptop. I believe life is only truly experienced away from technology, in the present moment, in other people, in nature, in reality, and in contemplative silence – away from screens and online profiles. It all gets a bit Matrix-like for me sometimes. I’m pretty sure I read recently that our generation’s over-use of technology is linked to depression, sleep deprivation and anxiety.
This song is concerned with freedom, and as such when I hear it back it’s like a gasping for air.
I don’t want to rob potential listeners of their own lyrical interpretation, but one of the song’s most enigmatic lines, “Carolan spies with make-believe eyes a way to uplift” needs a bit of unpacking. Turlough O’Carolan was a blind Irish composer in the 18th-century who’s music I grew up with playing on the violin, long before I got into electronic songwriting. He has a gift for melody, and I’m sure his music has had an impact on my own material. Melody in music is hugely important to me.
The musical influences behind this song would form an eclectic playlist – classical and choral earworms going back years and years, then some Beach Boys, The Fez Soundtrack by Disasterpiece, Le Mystere Des Voix Bulgares, Roisin Murphy, maybe some Radiohead…I would cite the track ‘Unison’ from Bjork’s ‘Vespertine’ but I actually started listening to Bjork after we recorded the album.
The chorus sections contain one of my favourite chords borrowed from classical music – F sharp dominant 7th over a B bass – a really crunchy chord, I make no apologies for it. It’s the harmonic kernel of the song I think.
This was a challenging track to record vocally. The vocals in the choruses are the highest on the album, stretching up to top D, which pushes my falsetto to it’s limit. Even Tom’s impressive ‘producer patience’ may have been tested in the studio when we recorded this song. The lush strings play a prominent role in the track and are even given their own instrumental chorus at the end, sounding lush and spacious against the intricate electronic beat underneath. It’s one of my favourite sections off the album actually. The ‘orchestral’ sound was achieved by using two violins which were to hand at Tom’s place in London, and subjecting them to some serious multi-tracking!
Border is a solemn song – one of the really downtempo tracks off the record. The lyrics are concerned with the yearning to be with absent loved ones. But while the chorus lyrics are meant more generally as a hazy expression of longing for somebody who isn’t there, the verses actually tell a story inspired by the poignant reunion of Korean families forcibly separated by the North/South divide. The real-life events form such a heart-rending account, and I am anxious not to trivialise them in any way.
This BBC news piece from October 2015 documented the events, I wanted to write about the fleeting reunions of North/South Korean families – not because I could possibly empathise with such suffering and loss, but just to draw attention to the story, and hold it up as a monument to hope, which is alive even in the darkest places.
Come Home to Me
1. One of earliest tracks written in first phase of album development
2. Classically influenced chord sequence and prominent use of the string orchestra
3. Addition of strings over minimal dance beat (kickdrum only) gives the track intensity and propulsion
4. Both the lyrics and music convey someone with a restless heart, who hasn’t yet learned to accept things as they are.
5. Strings only outro is one one of the most poignant moments on the record – influenced by Bjork and the string serenades the Dvorak, Tchaikovsky and Elgar.
6. String section – the chords are spaced out and doubled across several octaves – this gives the impression of space and epic proportions in the music.
7. An alternative version without the propulsive kick drum exists, but it lacked the intensity and gravitas this version has with it kept in the mix.
8. Melodic vocal is looped and taken through progressively building textures that balance synthetic and acoustic sounds.
9. Worth drawing attention to the looped chord sequence – use of first and second inversions, plus the spicy tonic major dominant 7th with the third in the bass next to the home chord gives the sequence a lofty ‘classical’ flavour.
1. A personal favourite.
2. Most mellow track on the album.
3. String orchestra again here and bach-influenced delicate piano motif woven into the texture, but with a strange swung rhythm.
4. A sad song, but not without hope.
5. The lyric ‘Full Fathom three’ – reference to Shakespeare’s The Tempest – ‘Full fathom five my father lies’.
6. The Emaj7/G# in the looped sequence for me holds the emotional kernel of the song.
7. Sadness and resignation – although sharing characteristics with previous track Come Home To Me (kick drum/lush strings/looped melody and classical influences), the mood has changed here from restlessness and anxiety to resignation and acceptance, signalling someone who is learning to grieve properly.
“Take your time
Not hard to see anymore
Save your sight
No troubling anymore”
8. Perhaps portrays an acceptance of reality as it is rather than how I want it to be, which is key to personal growth.
9. I am someone who chases the future and forgets to live in the present. I feel that we should all learn to live in the present, because the future is unreality and will never exist. Life is lived in the present moment.
“Hold on tight
About to hit, waiting for
Rays of light
To bounce and miss, way to go.”
10. This verse uses a technique called bathos I remember learning in school – points to how as I get older as an idealist my preconceptions about beauty and perfection are dismantled.
1. A very tuneful track, one of the strongest vocal tunes that ended up on the record.
2. Very uplifting, anthemic choruses are juxtaposed with quiet, cryptic and meditative verses both musically and lyrically – making for a drama of contrasts.
3. The string orchestra here plays a central role in the song.
4. Lyrically and musically the tone here follows on from ‘Moon’ – there is a more active hope and resilience here reaching beyond the sad resignation of the previous song.
5. Lyrically and in some ways musically this track is inspired by the aesthetic of an old and revered playstation game called ‘Shadow of The Colossus’ where the player rides on horseback through mystical empty deserts to encounters with enormous monsters, or ‘Colossi’. In the context of the song however, ‘colossus/colossi’ have more than one connotation, and lyrically the track deals with the themes of human vulnerability, inner freedom and internal personal struggles and victories.
1. This track manages to be a headbanger while continually switching between different time signatures (4/4, 3/4, 5/4).
2. Another early track that has been through several different guises before arriving at this final version. It’s a dark immersive vocal-led dance track in the same ballpark as Bitter End and First Cry at the beginning of the record, but has it’s own flavour with some intriguing textures and arpeggiation.
3. It and rounds off the album quite dramatically and unexpectedly, with the same restless spirit as it’s companion piece “Come Home To Me”, developing from the previous narrative of waiting for a homecoming that never transpires. The lyrics are sung from the vantage point from a wronged lover who has been waiting in vain.