Opinion Review

Joshua Kempen: Midnight Ship

Johannesburg-based singer-songwriter Joshua Kempen just released his debut EP, “Midnight Ship”. Laced with jangling electric guitar and raw, unimpeded vocals, this five-track project was produced by fellow muso and DJ, Thor Rixon.

Most of the project consists of a wholly unrefined sound, stripped and unpolished, giving the EP a very fresh, openly acoustic feel. Electric guitar played classically adds a modern edge while the random incorporation of ethereal female vocals adds another dimension entirely. His raw, husky voice and guitar techniques can make him ring alike to the likes of Jack Johnson and Philip Philips, while the integration of Italian lyrics and melodies add an unusual Latin-fusion twang to the mix.

‘I’m Coming Home’ contributes a touch of energy to the EP – delicately foot-tapping, smoothly overlain with echoing guitar and interspersed with woody percussion, this track gives you an idea of Kempen’s versatility as an artist. ‘You Are The One’ is a distinctly more electronically orientated song, held carefully in Kempen’s signature style with the use of muffled guitar riffs and shakers.

The title track, ‘Midnight Ship’, is nothing short of hauntingly beautiful. Laced with birdcalls, running water and sighing harmonies, this track slows the pace right down. Delicate tinkling guitar-work lends this track to any calm playlist out there. The Italian lyrics during the first half only add to the evocative intrigue of the song. He lapses back into English for the duration of the second half of the song, clearing up some of the unanswered questions with husky, symphonic storytelling.

The apparently ever-necessary six-minute love ballad, ‘Ysabel Lola’ speaks of a “real Italian romance”, sparked by serendipitous encounters while in northern Italy. The explanation is given in an additional track as a halting, thought-provoking narrative. This unusual addition adds a much more personal touch to the EP as the listeners are given a chance to hear the true voice behind the songs.

There are aspects in Kempen’s work which sometimes ring a little too similar to other acoustic SA solo artists, but it can be tricky create your own personal style while still trying to maintain a relatively simple sound.

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Listen to ‘Midnight Ships’ below on Deezer.