Album reviews: James Elkington - Wintres Woma, Peter Perrett - How The West Was Won, Anne Briggs - The Time Has Come, and more

Also Slow Dancer - In A Mood, LTO - Storybook, and Lost Midas - Undefined

Andy Gill
Wednesday 28 June 2017 16:23
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Various Artists, Silhouettes & Statues: A Gothic Revolution 1978-1986

★★★☆☆

Download: Shadowplay; Rema-Rema; Beautiful Monster; Flowers Of Romance; Bed Caves

Emerging from the darker recesses of punk’s scorched-earth aftermath, Goth was a curious blend of introvert moodiness with extrovert style, its fascination with apocalyptic gloom somewhat belied by the just-so combination of mascara, back-combed hair and long dark coat. We may be well en route to hell, it seemed to proclaim, but when we get there, by God, we’ll be grimly gorgeous. It was perhaps the most accurate realisation in rock of Oscar Wilde’s dictum about being in the gutter, but staring at the stars; and as such, lingers on today in the work of such as Editors, Interpol and most potently The Horrors.

On this extensive five-disc anthology, it’s appropriately heralded by Joy Division’s “Shadowplay”, effectively casting Hooky’s ominous bass as harbinger of a doomy cultural shift; but it’s worth noting that little else here can equal the tomb-like baritone chill of Ian Curtis’s vocal – or is that simply hindsight staining art? Whatever, it projects a seriousness supplanted, in many of these tracks, by fairytale fantasy and horror-movie kitsch. The latter characteristic would be best exemplified by another of Goth’s establishing works, Bauhaus’s debut single “Bela Lugosi’s Dead”, had that been included; but it’s been eschewed in favour of the album track “Stigmata Martyr” - less significant despite its on-point title – along with contributions from spin-off acts like Dali’s Car and Love And Rockets.

Though not strictly a Goth cut – for one thing, it’s too animatedly berserk – The Birthday Party’s “Release The Bats” does encapsulate, in the four-word phrase “sex vampire cool machine”, the genre’s essential worldview formula; while the bulldozer tread of Rema-Rema’s self-titled slab of churning chant-noise is perhaps the most potent exemplar of Goth’s Velvet Underground inheritance. The Cure, enduring template for so many Goth elements, are represented by “The Hanging Garden”, though The Sisters Of Mercy’s “Floorshow” perhaps offers the most complete epitome of genre mannerisms, with its drum-machine pulse, stern vocal and occasional shrieks applied to a suitably dystopian tableau.

Oddly, there’s nothing here from Echo & The Bunnymen, despite the inclusion of borderline cases like The Damned, The Mission and Adam And The Ants, and a host of lesser bands creating the musical equivalent of smeared mascara. But there’s a broad range of tangential directions sheltering under the otherwise welcoming umbrella of Silhouettes & Statues, from the flanged guitars and gossamer vocals strain practised by the likes of All About Eve and Dead Can Dance, and most successfully realised by The Cocteau Twins, to the guttural gloom of Theatre Of Hate, Southern Death Cult and Fields Of The Nephilim. Contributions from The Associates and Danielle Dax both suggest intriguing routes out of Goth’s dark alley, though the most distinctive is probably Public Image Ltd.’s astringent “Flowers Of Romance”, operating at a stubborn angle to any of their contemporaries.

The tide of apocalyptic melodrama gets unbearably wearing long before the fifth CD is reached, however, especially since there’s no attempt at providing any context of Goth’s nurturing roots in the likes of The Doors, the Sabs, Leonard Cohen and Scott Walker. But amongst the acres of muddy gloom glints the occasional lost classic, most notably the great splenetic motorik of Folk Devils’ “Beautiful Monster”. And to lighten the tone a little, can I just note that the band Ausgang are, y’know, way out? Oh, suit yourselves then.

James Elkington, Wintres Woma

★★★★☆

Download: Make It Up; When I Am Slow; The Parting Glass; Greatness Yet To Come; Any Afternoon

Chicago-based British expat James Elkington has been acclaimed by such knowledgeable figures as Richard Thompson and Jeff Tweedy as one of the most dazzling fingerstyle guitarists around – a reputation confirmed here by his propulsive, cyclical picking on tracks like “Make It Up”, providing a deft counterpoint to his wary, murmurous vocals. Elkington’s clearly rooted in the ‘60s British tradition forged by Davy Graham, Bert Jansch and John Renbourn: his antique take on “The Parting Glass” could be from Renbourn’s Sir John Alot… album, while the subtle blend of blues and Arabic touches in “When I Am Slow” echoes Graham’s innovative cross-cultural explorations. His songs are clusters of dark, foreboding images - “Spray your days with coffin nails”; “Entrails made into garlands to welcome my way” - reaching an apogee in “Greatness Yet To Come”, a mystic vision akin to the Crossroads Myth. But the darkness is spiked with sweetness in songs such as “The Hermit Census”, which finds him acknowledging, “There’s no time to make a meal of sorrow, when the rabble is hungry for mirth”.

Peter Perrett, How The West Was Won

★★★☆☆

Download: How The West Was Won; Hard To Say No

Former Only Ones frontman Peter Perrett sounds as languidly wasted as ever on How The West Was Won, though thankfully it’s the kind of wasted that demands the devotion of his sons, both involved in this solo debut, and sparks insights and locutions that enable him to make sense of his life. Or as he puts it in “Sweet Endeavour”, “the jigsaw pieces that you see/are part of a catastrophe/of a major work of art”. Well, maybe. Certainly, the title-track is great: a limping rock groove streaked with enervated slide guitar, it finds Perrett musing sourly on American history, from ruthlessly betrayed Natives through to that iconic image of modern American culture, Kim Kardashian’s bum. Elsewhere, his romantic reflections range from threesome chat-up “Troika” to the fulsome declarations of “An Epic Story” and “C. Voyeurgeur”, though there’s no escape here from Perrett’s self-obsession, whether he’s comparing his fascination with rock’n’roll to a crack-addicted lab rat, or riding a sinister jangle of guitars to solipsism: “I’m living in my head/It was never mine to lose”.

Anne Briggs, The Time Has Come

★★★★☆

Download: Sandman’s Song; Fire And Wine; The Time Has Come; Wishing Well

Shunning the limelight and lifestyle, Anne Briggs walked away from folk music’s burgeoning popularity in the early ‘70s, leaving just one LP and one EP of acappella traditional songs, and this 1971 album of her own material, on which she accompanies herself on guitar and bouzouki. She refused to release a subsequent set from 1973 (it finally appeared in 1997), and remains highly critical of her own recorded work; yet through the intervening years she became a touchstone of folk authenticity, through the dark stillness of her performances of songs such as “Wishing Well”, co-written with former partner Bert Jansch. Solitude and loss dominate this album: the haunting fatalism of the title-track holds sadness in equilibrium with equanimity, while the “Tangled Man” caught “in a tangled time” seems ensnared in her befuddling guitar work. A couple of jangly bouzouki pieces punctuate the songs, but it’s the spartan simplicity of her voice on “Sandman’s Song” and the wintry “Fire And Wine” that’s most affecting, especially the graceful, incantatory way her voice scales the latter’s elisions.

Slow Dancer, In A Mood

★★★☆☆

Download: In The Water; Bitter; I Would; In A Mood

Slow Dancer is the nom de disque of Melbourne-based one-man-band Simon Okely, whose blending of folk and R&B modes on “In A Mood” bears comparison with the work of Jeb Loy Nichols: there’s a similar faith in old-school analogue ways and shuffling grooves, and a similarly languid manner to his delivery. The results range from the soothing yacht-rock soul of “Don’t Believe” to the soft, weightless folk-soul momentum of “I Would”, which, with its acoustic guitar arpeggios tinted with strings, resembles an outtake from Nick Drake’s Bryter Layter. Set to spartan electric chords on the edge of distortion, “In The Water” reveals a curious idiosyncrasy about Okely’s voice, with lines opening as a whiskery drawl before closing, split seconds later, as a gentle caress. It’s an odd mannerism, but applies well to songs in which he wrestles with relationship problems, constantly gazing back across an increasingly gaping romantic void, suffering the “bitter taste of falling down”, or apologising for his grumpiness. “I got a can-do attitude,” he claims in the title-track, “but you caught me in a mood.”

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LTO, Storybook

★★★★☆

Download: Change; Tape Loops; Rise; When

Bristol-based producer LTO operates in the crepuscular half-light where the moodily methodical piano progressions of Ludovico Einaudi meet the textural synthesis of Eno, atop the glitchy undercurrents of 4Tet. “Change” opens the album with a misty synth pad, to which are gradually added half-heard scraps of conversation and itchy sounds – ticking clocks, bouncing ping-pong balls – imposing a cock-eyed mechanistic order. The calm, Satie-esque piano figures of “Enchantment” and “Rise” are gently assailed by scrapes, ticks and run-out groove clicks, with a looped string counterpoint emerging slowly from the distance to impose a mounting sense of pride on the latter. Elsewhere, other isolated elements – a single burst of discordant reeds, a harsh tone-cluster – punctuate tracks’ steady progress with piquant contrasts. The only vocals are the exhausted murmuring about “speaking in tongues” in “Enchantment”, and his wistful recollection in “Tape Loops” of summer days spent in the park: suspended in cavernous reverb alongside evocative piano chords, it’s like memory preserved in nostalgic aspic.

Lost Midas, Undefined

★★★☆☆

Download: Yucaipa; San Gorgonio; Kayla’s Lullaby

Jason Trikakis, aka Lost Midas, favours softly pulsing grooves and glistening synths throughout Undefined, from the cooing effusions of the title-track to the gently juddering throb of “Nebula”. Opener “Yucaipa” is the most satisfying: a high, twinkling keyboard figure gradually acquires woozy synth chords, string pads and the murmured chant “You’re the only one that sees me”, before halfway through, a shaker and steel pan percussion track kicks it up another level. “San Gorgonio” is another winner, with harp glissandi, string samples and trip-hop beat draped around undulating scales of twinkling, Christmas-bauble tones, whilst a robotic voice croons “Anybody out there?” against the warm glow, like an alien yearning to be elsewhere. Most tracks feature guest vocals, usually by Rachel Geller, in an attempt to establish the tracks’ bona fides as songs, but save for “For Nothing”, on which she resembles Roisin Murphy, they’re not persuasive. Only “Kayla’s Lullaby”, where Kalispell (Josh Wood) plays the part of a separating father reassuring his daughter he still loves her, packs any emotional punch.

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