Wednesday, 8 October 2014

"This Is All Yours" - alt-J and "Give My Love to London" - Marianne Faithfull

Long anticipated album following 2012's acclaimed debut, "An Awesome Wave," alternative rockers (apparently) alt-J named, as everyone must be tired of reading, after the pressing of the alt key along with the J on a Mac which produces a neat looking triangle, have again recorded music beautiful, bewitching, beguiling and brilliant.
Having the savvy to spot the wastelands of popular music are in need of a fresh outlook, alt-J, along with the likes of Robbing Millions, Django Django, Owen Pallet and the spellbindingly good St. Vincent, have composed songs that have the ability to remain listenable, accessible but experimental yet still rooted. There is, somewhere deep, not hidden away like an old person the family is ashamed of, the heartbeat of any good popular music, folk. Amid the swirls and emulsions is a grounded flavour like nutmeg and lime, sharp and earthy that combine suggestively with techno sensibilities.
There is a clarity of sound, like the taste of good wine, that is crisp and fruity. It as a joy that extends beyond the confines of the studio so that it occupies a space right there in front of you. That joy is defined by the very freshness of this album, the way in which diverse elements mix in an aural cocktail. The album is the splash of water on the face upon waking.
The songs are challenging but not difficult. alt-J prove that intelligence doesn't mean being clever, they avoid that obvious trap. There is nothing artificial here, no signs of pretension, just some very accessible music, the sort perhaps Robert Wyatt would approve of.
"Every Other Freckle," inviting questions why the title to one side, is an irresistible song that starts off sounding vague like Mumford and Sons prior to going where that band probably wouldn't venture. Techno-folk? Perhaps. "Left Hand Free" could be an object lesson for  bands wanting to make funky 'rock' like music - the keyboard here is spine tingling. Then, with a single, repetitive poing poing poing chimed out by some technological dream machine, a veritable electronic Tibetan bell, comes the soulfully sung, mesmeric and haunting "Hunger of the Pine." It is a track that leaves your heart begging for more. Beautiful, beautiful melody.

Is it a concept album? Could be. There seems to be a thread by which the whole, if not individual tracks, are linked. The first track is "Intro" followed by "Nara" followed by "Arrival in Nara." There is even an Interlude before the potentially embarrassing "Leaving Nara." There is nothing to be embarrassed by. This is an exquisite record and anyway, there are another nine tracks and not one of them has Nara in the title.
"If you are only moved by color relationships, you are missing the point. I am interested in expressing the big emotions - tragedy, ecstasy, doom." - Mark Rothko
Muted pastels, yellows, greens, blues beside spectral hints that suggest in hushed whispers colours rather than shout them, infused with achromatic greys, blacks and whites, shuffle, shoe tapping, brush stroking vibrant shades, bold and expressive, filled with emotion, this is an album that will stand the test of time just as it passes the test of contemporary values.
Here is a band with a future that shows us a future for bands to follow. Lead on gentlemen.

There is something quite irresistible about Marianne Faithfull. Not just the school buy crush I had on her way back then but an indefatigable spirit. Unbowed, careless and fuck-it-all. Two fingers raised to any who don't like her or the mistakes made. She, along with people like Tom Waits, Shane McGowan, and Patti Smith seem able to reflect a deeper honesty about ourselves. The knobbly bits, warts and all, take it or leave it the flawed truth of mankind seen clearly in her/their eyes. And of course, that voice - ground out the coffee grain, nicotine, and abuse - that sets the agenda the instant she opens her mouth. Unrepentant if not unsympathetic. Bullshit free in a world covered in the stuff.

Faithfull is the epitome of the survivor. Heroin addiction, homeless, out on the streets, puddles of puke, cancer and more recently a broken back. Yet here she is, 67 and still moving forward if a little more stiffly these days. I suppose it is that quality, that never say die ornery spunk that I identify with. We need those whose work we adore to be as flawed as ourselves. It gives comfort to know that even the hugely talented also have issues 

Remember "Broken English?" What a revelation that album was. It felt sore. A wounded heart comes in off the streets having sunk more alcohol than a beer stained Keller, more drugs than a Columbian Drug Overlord's produce. (It also had what I believe to be the best version of 'Working Class Hero.") Well, this is that album's equal. Less angry, less spit and gravel, warmer somehow but still edgy, still roving.

Not sure if she really likes London at all or indeed if this album has anything to do with England's capital but it is a striking set of songs nonetheless.

As you would expect from such a class act Marianne Faithfull attracts talent like the proverbial flame does the moth. Steve Earle, Nick Cave, and Roger Waters are among the players.

There is a rich confection of songs and sounds here. From love lost to reflective. If I had to pick a track then, as usual with me I couldn't, I'd have to select three...."Sparrows Will Sing,"Late Victorian Holocaust" and that old Hoagy Carmichael chestnut "I Get Along Without You Very Well."

It really depends on which review you read as to who loves or loathes this album. I love and recommend it.


Russell Cuts the Corn From The Brewers Whiskers.

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