In today’s world of music, it is hard to find music that truly allows the listener to use their five senses to simply exist in the now - their sight, hearing, touch, smell, and taste. Some mainstream, and now some Indie, music have taken on the storylines of social trends, short attention span melodies, over done collaborations, stale riffs, and emotionless vocals. Ten Steps by Max ZT and Dan Whitehouse is so well composed that the listener is immersed into the music; they are able to metaphorically digest its contents, and complete the listen with a takeaway that sticks.
Ten Steps is the creation of Max ZT (House of Waters) known as the Jimi Hendrix of the hammered dulcimer, and Dan Whitehouse, an acclaimed and award-winning English songwriter and composer known for his “subtle and delicate melodies” (The Sunday Times).
The track Listing includes:
- Ten Steps
- Bury One's Head
- The Perfect Circle
- How To Strike
- The Many Colours of Morning
And while there are more instruments being played on each track so professionally and outspoken, my focus is on the hammered dulcimer as this instrument is literally like a second vocalist.
Usually, this is when I say “these are the album’s highlights,” but in this case, the entire album is a highlight. This is so rare. But so is the collaboration of two strong music forces creating an album that is so needed in today’s world. An album that is great for just listening but also delivers a message - we can heal; with music, we can heal. Just listen!
This is my interpretation of Ten Steps.
We start with the title track - a powerful song that illustrates the direction of the album by prepping the listener to be able to thread all of the emotions that is weaved throughout the entire collection of music. The words spoken by Dan White house, “you must not fear these steps; let me take your hand,” is very meditative in its delivery and plays well with the hammered dulcimer surgically played by Max ZT. This track’s message is to not be afraid to take the first step of letting go of whatever does not honor your existence. Watch the live video here.
“Bury One’s Head” plays like the parenthetical part of one’s life. Every lyric sung by Dan Whitehouse’s lips reminds me of what a person’s thinking as they are going through an action. The reciprocal effect of pondering on what they think will happen and what is going to happen is brought out lovely throughout the production of the track. The gated reverb effect on Whitehouse’s vocals equally reflects that “echo” parenthetical vibe.
The next track automatically gives the listener a mental picture of serenity at its opening by incorporating natural FX in the background - stillness, quiet. This is “Shizuka.” The lyrics sing: A gentle bow of the head. The ever growing list of things unsaid. The grey and brown canvas tones of this season’s fashion. The soft whirl of the helicopter fans overhead. The “shh” adlib is a great approach that focuses the listener to the song’s message - one of quiet secrets being kept in a place where things are not so peaceful. The harmonies add texture to a track. Watch the video here.
The fourth track, “The Perfect Circle,” has an uplifting vibe. The bright synthesizers dance with Whitehouse's second tenor vocals. The hammered dulcimer is very emotive on this track, really presenting itself as that second vocalist. In addition, this song should resonate with all listeners as its message is one that is universal - that things in life do not always happen linearly.
The most contemplative track of the collection is “Hammerhead.” It starts very quietly with nothing but the spoken word and the hammered dulcimer,, then it climbs with instrumentation and backing vocals that literally sets up the listener’s mind and soul to receive the message in the music.
My initial takeaway of “Hammerhead” was that the lyrics are telling the story of taking care of someone or the observation of a lover to another. But during my second listen of “Hammerhead,” I interpreted the lyrics to be illustrating the observance of a father to its child - I could see a father reflecting on his childhood that was not so great and how he wishes the most for his child. Regardless of your takeaway, you are sure to leave with a musical impression. It is as if Max ZT and Dan Whitehouse as the artists have produced music that personifies life imitating art in that the artists are allowing the listener to take from the track what they need defined. Spectacular!
Down at the bay his tall frame casts a long shadow in the afternoon sun / he settles himself and prepares to play. These are the opening words to “How To Strike.” This touches on playing the sport golf. But listen carefully to the hammered dulcimer, close your eyes and wait a few seconds. Now, could you see the golf course; the man standing there ready to pull off that perfect shot? I could; I bet you could. WOW! To be able to play an instrument like that. Brilliance! Then when the spoken words appear, almost like an announcer calling the game, you begin to notice something else. This song is a symbolic gesture of living life … ride the ride and reap the benefits.
The final track is “The Many Colours of the Morning.” Metaphorically, this song refers to being “woke” or living in the now - the present. Nothing else matters, not the past, or what tomorrow may bring, it’s just “the many colours of the morning.” On this track, Max ZT’s hammered dulcimer shares about half of the song with Whitehouse’ spoken words. An intentional balance - like how life should be. A reflective track.
There are typically 12 steps to recovery in many circumstances, especially addiction. But in life, there are usually five steps that people need to take in order to just exist: faith, recognition of self, health, motivation, and action. If these five steps, or aspects of one’s life, are expounded upon (or hyper focused), I guess we can say that there are 10 steps. This album is a vocal, lyrical, and instrumental illustration of those five steps hyper focused.
The entire collection of Ambient music illustrates what happens when two powerhouses come together - it’s passion with a purpose. There is no “real” theme to the album, but its purpose is to illustrate how music has the power to heal and truly transform lives and people to be their best selves. Yet, the songs also illustrate how even failures need to be reflected upon. It is staggering that some of the tracks were done in improv - just off the cuff. No script; no game plan - just pure talent.
And unlike the majority of Ambient music where it may lack a true composition or structure, Ten Steps has an emotional core and a strongly structured melody. And true to most Ambient music, Ten Steps is layered with textures of full bodied instrumentation and a juxtaposition of thought provoking and meditative lyrics.
This is serious music, because gone are the bells, whistles, and fluff that distorts the messages in most songs recorded in mainstream music today. With the words and music of Ten Steps there are no trends, citing of social media, comparing apples to oranges, or any additional gimmicks.
So, it is truly wonderful to listen to a collection of music that allows the listener to use their five senses: touch, to put on an album; hearing, to listen to the music; sight, to see the reality in its lyrics and to see the stories come to life; smell, to inhale deeply while listening to the music, and then exhale in release of stress; and taste, to just close your mouth and lick your lips, swallow, and grimace at all of the nuances laid out by such masterful musical artists. Just to sit in the present, reminisce on the past, and prepare for the future in just 25 minutes is an awesome experience!
To be able to vibe, become a collective, and inspire with pure vocals and instrumentation, is nothing short of phenomenal!
The TEN STEPS UK tour begins 18th October 2023:
Wed 18th October - Arc Theatre, Winchester
Thur 19th October - Music At The Unicorn, Abingdon
Sun 22nd October - Stables 2, Milton Keynes
Tue 24th October - The Pheasantry, Pizza Express, London
Wed 25th October - Ropetackle Arts, Shoreham
Thur 26th October - The Old Stables, Cricklade
Fri 27th October - Royal Birmingham Conservatoire
Sat 28th October - The Stoller Hall, Manchester
TEN STEPS Written and Produced by Max ZT (ASCAP) & Dan Whitehouse (PRS / MCPS)
Lyrics by Dan Whitehouse
Mixed by Max ZT
Mastered by Mark Freegard
Dan Whitehouse - Vocals, Guitars, recorded in Yokohama, Japan
Max ZT - Hammered Dulcimer, Percussion, Synthesizers, recorded in New York, USA
Ösp Eldjárn - Background Vocals (Ten Steps)
Gustaf Ljunggren - Synthesizers (Ten Steps)
Taiga Mori-Whitehouse - Background Vocals (Shizuka)
Art & Design – Martin Hyde
Photos - Peter James Millson
P+C Max ZT & Dan Whitehouse 2023
WTK006 Want To Know Records