Although recorded in the big-city environs of London and New York, Colin MacIntyre's third outing as the Mull Historical Society retains the optimistic small-scale outsider attitude and inquisitive musical approach of his previous Loss and Us albums.
In particular, the impression persists of him extemporising lines instantly, then grabbing a fragment of melody or some found-sound that fits, to create impromptu pop magic. His blend of quirky sound-collages and hummable, personable songs is the kind of thing I hoped to get from Badly Drawn Boy, before Damon Gough embarked on his long slow slide into suburban contentment. That's not likely to happen to MacIntyre, who opens This Is Hope with "Peculiar", an engagingly shambolic plaint about being one of life's involuntary oddballs. "Don't piss them off or they will piss on you," he warns going on to plead, "I'm not cool any more/ Stay with me honey."
As before, he posits localised individuality as a counteractive to corporate culture, human values against mechanical processes, and the personal over the (party) political: when he eulogises the late Dr David Kelly in "Death Of A Scientist", the result is poignant rather than angry, apologetic rather than hectoring, with a concluding ambient collage of natural sounds, radio and church bells that serves as a moving testament to the poor, hounded fellow. Elsewhere, the single "How 'Bout I Love You More" uses an ascending vocal melody to bring a measure of optimism to its critique of "mechanical times" and "digital minds", while his latest homeland anthem "This Is the Hebrides" uses a simple mix of acoustic guitar, piano and sonic bricolage to underscore a message about balancing unavoidable American influences with one's own heritage. "Of course I am open, of course I am free," he acknowledges, "of course I am wondering what is happening to me."
His predilection for the experimental doesn't mean there's no room for more direct pop stylings, however. The wry reflection on isolation "Treescavengers" is built on a yearning piano figure that Keane or Coldplay would sell their baby grands for, while "Len" is an engaging exercise in Travis-esque poignant guitar pop. Like "My Friend the Addict", "Len" also exemplifies the supportive attitudes that are probably necessary for existence in such isolated communities, eschewing admonishment for some unspecified transgression in favour of a comforting arm round the shoulder: "Len/ We knew a while ago/ You needn't try to hide it/ On a world scale, you've really done nothing wrong". A warm and welcoming album, with an inquisitive enthusiasm for all manner of musical modes.