New band of the day – No 624: Player Piano

When not sounding in thrall to heroes Lou Reed, Lennon and Bowie, this multi-instrumentalist recalls the pop leanings of Eels and Ed Harcourt

Hometown: London.

The lineup: Jeremy Radway (guitars, keyboards, lead vocals), Ed Grimshaw (drums), George Hider (bass), Yuuki Maclure (guitar).

The background: Player Piano was born in Indiana and lives in London, so we're not sure whether he could be considered for next year's Mercury prize. Then again, he probably should release an album first before anyone decides whether he merits contention. His debut EP, on the highly regarded Fence label, is certainly full of potential. In fact, one publication has decided that Jeremy Radway, who is to all intents and purposes Player Piano, has gone beyond "promise" and is already the real deal, declaring: "In most instances, a debut release's appeal is down to a certain tentativeness and innocence — great potential, as yet only partly fulfilled. In Player Piano's case, however, it is the completeness, the fully realised grandeur, of Radway's first EP that so impresses."

We completely disagree: said EP, Into the Dark, is the work of a young man – a really good-looking young man, by the way – who is as yet too in thrall to his influences (particularly early-70s Lennon, Bowie and Lou Reed) to truly impress. It suggests one of three possible outcomes for the singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist: he might escape the shadow of his heroes and end up sounding original but dull, he might become a Beck-ish polymath, flitting excitingly between wildly disparate projects, or he might just carry on as he began, aping the all-time greats. "I'd like to think if Sly Stone and David Bowie had co-hosted a late-night talk show (IMAGINE!!!), Player Piano would be the house band," Radway writes on his MySpace, nailing his fanboy colours to the mast. "Not because it particularly sounds like either, but because PP would so love to be in the same room with those cats, if only to absorb some magic."

Did we say "all-time greats" back there? Oops. Radway doesn't always echo the immortals. On his song Mercy he sounds as plainly plaintive as Chris Martin. Elsewhere, Radway, who has been touring with Fence favourite King Creosote and was apparently a minor hit at this summer's Green Man festival, has been compared with everyone from Ed Harcourt and Rufus Wainwright – because of the piano flourishes and a certain tendency to baroque-out and pile on the strings – to Julian Casablancas and Mark "E" Everett from Eels, due to a certain growly vocal tenor when he tries to sing low. But mainly the arrangements and structure of the songs on Into the Dark sound like the result of too many hours spent in the titular penumbra listening to Imagine, Transformer and Diamond Dogs, if not Plastic Ono Band, Berlin and Hunky Dory, because those were more personal works and arguably harder to mimic. It's certainly worthy of investigation, if only to say you were there, you know, just in case – but PP is not worthy of total veneration just yet.

The buzz: "It tugs at the heartstrings and ensnares you with the scope of its ambition."

The truth: Well, it's ambitious in the sense of the company it wants to keep rather than in terms of sonic invention.

Most likely to: Encourage Bowie to make a return to form.

Least likely to: Drag Sly Stone out of retirement.

What to buy: Into the Dark EP is out now on Fence Records.

File next to: Eels, Ed Harcourt, Mull Historical Society, Rufus Wainwright.


Tomorrow's new band: Bosque Brown.


Paul Lester

The GuardianTramp

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