Open Book (Red Essential)
Evocative of a Scottish U2 in the day when they still wrote stadium lifting anthems and infused the swelling power of Runrig at full blast, the trio make no apologies for trading in massive melodies, soaring choruses and heartfelt, impassioned vocals, They set out their stall on the opening swell of Just Past The Point of Breaking before the punch of Always and, after a deceptively restrained intro, Lost Little Boys with its pounding drums.
It’s not all so thunderous. Mid-point they take things down a notch or two, Wondrous Heart a mid-tempo reflective ballad (albeit with another big chorus), Joanna (relatively) quieter heartache with Younger Days initially played out on acoustic guitar while Open Book is a dramatic piano-chords ballad.
But then the flood gates open again with Forest with its huge guitars and steady military beat with its “can you hear me calling” chorus swell, followed, in turn by Kids, one of the album’s major highlights with its recollections of younger more innocent days and lament for today’s generation. Playing out with the muscular stridency of Stop The Car and the momentum building Sleeping Over, they close with the Snow Patrol-conjuring anthemic Chasing Ghosts. Breathtakingly awesome.
PLANTS AND ANIMALS
Walking In From The Rumbling (Secret City)
Fronted by singer/guitarist Warren Spicer alongside guitarist/bassist Nicolas Basque and drummer Woody Matthew Woodley, the Montreal-based trio are, at root, an alt-folk outfit, but, having said that, they also embrace a combination of soul, classical, dark funk and baroque notes that’s seen them tagged a turn-of-the-century fusion of Radiohead and Flaming Lips. They open with the cinematic widescreen We Were One before immersing themselves in the lolloping rhythms of No Worries Gonna Find Us, the densely textured brief instrumental Fata Morgana giving way to Stay, its sparse acoustic intro mutating in a psychedelic miasma with background vocals by Adele Trottier-Revard.
They’re at their most Thom Yorke on All Of The Time with its skewed piano, plodding rhythm and Spicer’s falsetto wail, but they’re not mere copyists, things like the soul infused So Many Nights with its dissonant orchestral finale, the summery click percussion Flowers and the languid seven-minute shape-shifting Je voulais te dire ample evidence of a their own singular creative imagination. It’s not one for casual background listening and it may require a fair few listens to appreciate everything that’s going on, but if you have the patience, the rewards are there.
APPLE OF MY EYE
The Beast Below (Pear O’Legs)
A percussion-less London-based septet that embraces double bass, cello, violin and bouzouki, with all members providing vocals, they’re a somewhat cerebral affair who frequently trade in off-kilter shanties.
The album opens with the title track, an attention-grabbing tale of some fishing vessel being torn apart by a giant squid-like monster, bouzouki and violin providing the intro before the urgent trad-folk styled vocal kicks in along with shouts of heave-ho. It’s a clever balance of musical delicacy and dynamic vocal urgency that whets your appetite for more of a similar nature. Unfortunately, nothing much else here stand out in the same way as it explores a theme of characters facing insurmountable odds. some of which they survive. Polar Bear is easily the quirkiest offering lyrically that opens wondering whether a penguin’s a mammal or a fish, since mammal’s don’t lay edible eggs and goes on to muse on zebras, silkworms and, well, polar bears, with a round chorus of “Suckle on the Nipple of the Belly of the Beast”, and which may also have something to do with global warning and endangered species. There is perhaps a dash of early Stackridge in there somewhere.
Elsewhere the plucked strings Young One is a cascading lullaby for older children, Balloon is an airy, musically barque-like tale of taking to the skies to escape a doomed love and the cello- underpinned Cloth, Needle & Thread is a delicately patterned story of a Barnsley mine disaster that has a musical kinship with Simon & Garfunkel’s Parsley, Sage, Rosemary & Thyme, while Under The Clay talks of death with images of lambs frozen to death, bicycles tied to the side of the road as the mark of a fatal accident and, with a jig-like melody, the fiddle-scraping Brother James is the story of a family’s black sheep returning home to save his brother from the vengeance of villagers looking for payback. All a bit Peaky Blinders.
However, while the band perform immaculately, cross-thatching the vocals and interweaving the instruments as they delve into the darker waters of the folk tradition, in focusing on the technical perfectionthey have misplaced the emotional heart, producing an album that’s very easy to appreciate, but a little harder to love.