Stats’ new album Powys 1999 is born out of its location; both emotionally and physically. It was not only forged in singer and songwriter Ed Seed’s childhood but also recorded in a studio near his home town which sits within the Welsh county of Powys. Using your childhood for inspiration has the danger to become dewy-eyed or rose-tinted but Seed is a surgeon who wields his nostalgia like a scalpel and reconstructs thoughts and feelings into a work that is both abstract and precise and wholly entertaining.
Powys 1999 is the second album from Stats following on from 2019’s Other People’s Lives and delivers more of the band’s trademark champagne of electronic pop fizzing with funk and wistful ballads. Stats are so crisp they make Granny Smiths, Pinot Grigio and drinking water after an extra-strong mint seem dull, and coupled with the laser accuracy of their tunes and arrangements they definitely quicken my pulse. There’s a line in the press release about the track ‘Naturalise Me’ which says “I felt somehow fake in Powys as a born incomer, un-local, neither Welsh nor English. But by looking at the landscape I started to realise the construction and extraction behind it, and the myth of its naturalness”. That phrase ‘construction and extraction’ resonates as the perfect symbiosis of what Stats achieve on this album.
Powys 1999 feels both familiar and alien. In the way that Kraftwerk never waste a sound, and everything has its place, so it is with Stats. They can send up a flare to grab your attention on tracks like ‘Come With Me’, which bursts opens the album with al dente drums, keyboards squeals and a talk / sung vocal, ‘Naturalise Me’ a dance floor filler which winds around you like a neon snake and mesmerises with arpeggiated ripples and perfect falsetto vocals and ‘Kiss Me Like It’s Over’ with its urgent verses and plaintive hang glider chorus which dives into a Studio 54 electro-disco beat. The album mixes bangers with ballads; and the stories of a man looking back at a child looking forward, shines through on tracks like ‘On The Tip of My Tongue’ with its ache to consummate the present and the future, the epic bells of ‘Old Flames’, and ‘Travel With Me Through the Ghost World’ which could be part of ‘Powys 1999 – The Musical’ with the insistent piano phrase reflecting the unresolved story of our hero / protagonist who is alone on stage lit by a single spotlight.
Musically Stats are at the top of their game. They may be Meccano masters in the studio but I have seen Stats live on a number of occasions and they always crush it and are as tight as the sweat band on a dancer from Fame. With double keyboards and vocals from Nicole Robson and Iso Waller-Bridge they can mix the classically trained with technology and bring both the tidal swells of warm chords as well as notes fired from a planetarium’s laser show. There are the analogue drums played with computer precision and human warmth from John Barrett, perfect guitar vignettes from Duncan Brown and the earthworm root notes of Stu Barter on bass. And rather than clutter the sound they all work as a crucible to allow Ed Seed’s voice to sparkle; a voice that runs from warm and mellifluous to renting a penthouse at the top register of a singer’s range.
Stats jump the boundaries between dance and pop. This is PhD level writing that never lacks heart and has the depth of intent and allusion that never overshadows the music and where the music never hampers the semantic joy of taking a tour of Seed’s past. They are organic/electronic, good flashy but never braggadocious and I would put them on my fantasy gig list without a second thought and with an album this wonderful there is no reason to be superstitious about a Friday 13th date.
Review by Paul F Cook