Mike Dennis is one of Bristol’s best kept secrets; a strikingly original rapping violinist and self-styled ‘menace’ who comes to the stage in his signature red and black striped T shirt armed with only a violin, cajon, loop pedal and a collection of witty yet sincere slices of West Country living. Coming hot on the heels of last year’s fantastic full length album ‘Smiles & Cries’; his latest offering is the six track ‘Junction 19 EP’ that, if there’s any justice in the world, will elevate him to the heights he truly deserves.
Opening with the eponymous title track; Mike immediately strikes you with his erudite articulation and musical proficiency. An ode to the beautiful, cosmopolitan city of Bristol, he perfectly encapsulates the minutiae of Bristolian living like some kind of West Country Mike Skinner – but don’t let that fool you; this Mike draws from a deeper musical well. The combination of gorgeous soaring strings, crystal clear production and beautiful acapella backing vocals on the breakdown make this a joy to listen to. Anyone from Bristol can find a lot of value here; and if you’ve never been lucky enough to experience the jewel of the West then by the end of this 3 minutes and 14 seconds you will certainly feel like you know the city. The track is a celebration, but poignantly wraps up with a dedication to the Full Moon in Cardiff – the latest victim of nationwide venue closure and clearly a place close to Mike’s heart.
‘Men With Guns’ swaps parochial jubilation for quickfire political rhetoric – Mike’s usual wit peppered with a sense of anger and frustration at the senseless violence of the world. Accompanied by percussionist Jeevan Singh from RSVP Music tapping out a super tight tabla mantra that is starkly contrasted with the sound of guns cocking and firing; the track is a perfect change of pace and mood from the opener.
‘UnDo’ is, for me, the standout track on an already consistently strong record. A more subdued number; it is here that we get more of a sense of the man behind the violin. Featuring delicate acoustic guitar, a beautiful chorus hook and haunting string arrangements, you get a feel for Mike’s more personal, vulnerable side. By the time the staccato rapping of the coda wraps up, you truly appreciate that here is an artist capable of eliciting many different emotions.
‘Ok. KO.’ is probably the riskiest track here; finding Mr. Dennis setting out his liberal stall in a move that could well lose him a couple of listeners. Oh well, fuck ’em – their loss. The track moves from global, to national, to personal worries. Mike has a real talent for framing very real issues and concerns against a backdrop of lighthearted eloquence – well, if we don’t laugh we’ll cry! This track celebrates not only Mike’s political stance but the kind of thinking that makes Bristol great.
‘Things’ is set against a very old-school sounding big, thumping drumloop and powerchord reminiscent of something that wouldn’t sound out of place on a Beastie Boys record. The lyrics hold a mirror up to the ridiculous nature of frivolous commerce; extolling the virtues of being thrifty with a multilayered vocal chorus hook and the fastest delivery on the EP.
Mike closes this short, perfectly formed record with ‘Learned How To Be’; a look into being the unpopular butt of everyone’s jokes at school and a chronicle of his journey to being comfortable in his own skin. Accompanied by the sweet tones of Amy D on the choruses sounding a bit like Lily Allen if she ever learned how to be cool; the song wraps up the EP with Mike’s signature aplomb.
‘Junction 19 EP’ is everything that makes Mike Dennis special distilled into a small package of excellence. He is currently on a UK tour and if you have a love of homegrown, offbeat and vividly original music then you would be doing yourself a disservice not to go and check him out live. Judging by this record it may well be your last chance to catch him in smaller venues.
‘Junction 19 EP’ is released on May 7th, but you can pre-order now at http://www.mikedennis.bandcamp.com