LIVE REVIEW: SYML @ Kings Cross Scala, London

SYML

SYML means “Simple” in Welsh, however, whilst this solo project of Brian Fennel (Barcelona) is pure and honest; the electronic and haunting mystical innovations (alongside organic instruments such as the acoustic guitar) make this outfit complex and ingenious. Fennel’s powerful, yet sincere falsetto vocals add to the honesty of his songwriting and lyrics. The often haunting elements can be ascribed to Fennel using songwriting as a healing process. After all, at age eighteen, he wrote his first song to cope with the death of a schoolmate.

The simplicity is (apart from announcing at the start that there would be no encore and adhering to that promise) how SYML is able to express complex hopes and fears in an emotionally intelligent manner that people can connect to and feel a part of. The lyrics to “Where’s My Love” are a perfect example of this: “If she ran away, come back home. Just come home. I got a fear, oh, in my blood. She was carried up into the clouds, high above”. It is therefore not surprising that “Where’s My Love” amassed 300 million streams.

Naturally, once one has earned 300 million streams for just one song; it makes sense to go on tour, and as Fennel came on stage, both Brian and the audience felt both a sense of jubilation and melancholy as this Scala leg of this tour was his last. With just two other musicians who Fennel treated like family, SYML encompassed the unique complexities of the electronic sounds of artists ranging from Alt-j, The Boxer Rebellion, Thom Yorke, Tom Baxter, Keane and Foals. This theme worked to perfection, partly because for the most part, Fennel’s vocals remain undistorted, allowing a live audience to capture the emotions, and often a sense of loss such across songs such as “Flags” and “Meant to stay Hid”.

The majority of SYML songs were downtempo, lo-fi, chilled with an electronic haunting as if one was hiking through an enchanted, misty forest or fields. SYML fans knew what they needed to do in order to maximise the listening experience: by standing in stoic and silent elation. Nonetheless, there were noble exceptions to Fennel’s winning formula. “Girl” is virtually devoid of any electronic input that is celebrated with acoustic folk purity. The simple heartfelt affection shone through as Fennel sang, “Today and all of your days, I’ll wear your pain. Heal what I can in your troubled mind”. There was also a rockier side too. This was anticipated as the drummer roared “1, 2, 3, 4…” and SYML were adopting the rockier elements of Cold War Kids, but not to a Cold War Kids song; but to Chic’s “I want your Love”. Apart from being unexpected; one truly felt surprised and reassured that music could be remixed and explored in new, unexpected ways. There was also intense dancing to “Clean Eyes”, the opening track to SYML’s eponymous debut LP released earlier this year.

It was clear that SYML was more than just “Where’s My Love” when for the last three songs Fennel asked for audience requests. SYML titles including “The War”, “Harvest Moon”, “Mr Sandman (The Chordettes cover) and many, many others proved that SYML is more than a one-hit-wonder. When Fennel tried to test the popularity but asking which songs the Scala wanted most individually, the rival screams were all extremely and equally audible that it was impossible for him to discern. Nonetheless, Fennel appeared to have made the right decisions as the crowd absorbed the SYML live experience which will not be returning to the UK until at least summer 2020.

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