Hands Off Gretel have just released their new album. Jason Soper reviews it and catches them live on their current tour. Here are his thoughts.
Hands Off Gretel have seemingly come out of nowhere in the last few months, to my ears at least. The release of a stunning debut album will surely put them everywhere in months to come though. Unashamedly wearing their Grunge/Riot Grrrl influences on their sleeves…..where there’s room among the felt-tipped pen slogans anyways!
Despite a couple of line-up changes, Sam, Joe, Sean and Lauren sound like they have played together since day one, opener Queen Universe is driven by Sam’s drums, for the first time but definitely not for the last time on this album, with Lauren’s vocals lulling us into a sense of security, which is blown away when she let’s loose and announces she is, in fact, The Queen Of The Universe. I aint arguing!
One-Eyed Girl was one of the first songs I heard, pre-album release, it’s Joe’s (bass) turn to get the show on the road this time and is probably one of HOG’s most accessible songs, at the same time, it will get the head banging with Lauren proving, once again, how easy she finds it to go from voice of an angel, to scream of a (she)devil!
Bad Egg is next up. This one never fails to remind me of L7, undoubtedly another influence on the band and is a more subdued, darker sound before a chorus that I can see/hear an audience bouncing and singing along to.
Teethin is a pretty straight-forward 3 minutes-plus which may bring to mind Nirvana to listeners. They were long gone by the time 199o Lauren was born but clearly left a lasting impression on her, as with a ton of others out there.
Little Man takes the pace down again, Joe’s bass is the underlying constant here, working well with a more restrained, but no less effective, Sam on drums and Sean’s subtle guitar, not so in your face.
Always Right picks the tempo right up again, punk-driven, Lauren’s vocals spitting vitriol, while don’t underestimate her rhythm guitar playing all through this album, allowing Sean to go mental when the need arises……and it seemingly arises a fair bit on this album!
World Against She is another song that brings to my mind L7, not a bad thing whatsoever. One of Lauren’s best vocal performances on this album, in my opinion and along with some more great rhythm guitar, and a rock solid rhythm section it really does give the song every chance to succeed.
Oh Shit is probably the second song I heard of HOG’s, again a chorus that will have the crowd happily eating out of Lauren’s hands! Undoubtedly a live favourite already. All you need to know is ‘OHHHHHHHHHH SHIT!’.
Under The Bed is my favourite song on the album and has been since I first heard the album. Nothing complicated about a song that rocks at apace with yet more punk attitude and was very glad to hear it live at the Southampton gig recently (more about that at the end though!).
Eating Simon appears to be about eating someone….probably called Simon! It is the longest song on the album and, again, is a slightly slower, darker vibe, as possible expected with such a title!
Plasters is probably the song that took the longest for me to ‘get’. Introducing piano on this song, it doesn’t lack in intensity in either the lyrics or music, Lauren’s voice, while not full-on in your face as per previous songs is still full of angry emotion.
Push The Girl is probably Lauren at her most restrained on this album and with Sean’s guitars distortion-free for the most part here it does offer up a different dynamic to the rest of the album, it still works a treat and is still as attitude-driven but is an interesting wind-down.
Awfully Miserable is the second longest song, of the 13, on the album to finish with. The first 2 minutes of this one is Sean playing clean with Lauren singing sweetly once again, before the tempo picks up with Lauren requesting some kind soul to ‘bash my brains out’! The song winds down again as it started with an unusually (for this album) subdued ending but strangely appropriate. I found myself finally exhaling after listening to the album again after being immersed in it.
As mentioned at the start HOG don’t try to hide their influences, they are there for all to see, but the difference between a blatant rip-off and this lot are several:
Songs – They have a load of ’em, good ones aswell, with Lauren, despite being only 19, having a ton of experience in the music biz, writing and performing her own stuff for several years, it’s all out there on YouTube for you to check out. She’s not a one-trick pony as this album clearly shows.
Band – A group of musicians who fit each other like a glove, all standing out above Lauren’s undoubted and obvious talent on this album at various times. This isn’t a Lauren Tate solo album with a backing band, this is a proper band to take notice of.
Live – In my opinion, a great album is all well and good, but it’s live that matters most. I saw them at Talking Heads recently and they were stunning, despite a drummer playing with broken fingers and various members suffering from various cold-flu bugs. They were tight, sounded great yet raw, Sean is worth the ticket to see live by himself! Joe and Sam are a great rhythm section and, of course, Lauren is not exactly uneasy on the eye! THAT smile, the dress, the hair, she rocks the rhythm guitar……oh, and the voice, did i mention her voice?
And very cool people with time for their fans too. Definitely worth checking out live. Do it.
It starts with a deep rumbling noise, atonal and worrying. A high pitched whistling sound punctuates like a warning. They repeat. It sounds more like Nine Inch Nails than what you would expect from a Nick Cave album. There is a sense of ominous foreboding, like a dark storm of grief, melody buried deep within the song. Then comes THAT voice with words that will be over analysed for years to come:
“You fell from the sky and crash landed in a field near the River Adur”
For those not in the know, the album Skeleton Tree was started just before the death of Nick’s fifteen year old son who fell from the cliffs in Brighton. Of course this would heavily inform the album. Cave and his fellow Bad Seeds have operated around the darker fringes of life for their career and I think most listeners have been incredibly wary of the album, wondering how raw it would be.
The opening song Jesus Alone had a video emerge a few days before the dual release of the album and accompanying film (One More Time With Feeling which I’ve not yet seen). It’s dark and captures the band with a string section filmed in black and white. When I first heard it I’ll admit to feeling a little unsettled. It didn’t sound like what people were expecting. We were expecting gentle, piano led songs of sadness, not this monster. It is Cave’s grief, sorrow, anger, loss and guilt made whole. Warren Ellis has done a fantastic job of building the perfect soundscape for these emotions to run amongst. It marks a bit of a musical shift for the Bad Seeds. Guitars are left to mainly gather dust as the band experiment more to create something that sits unique in the Nick Cave catalogue.
Jesus Alone doesn’t real alter itself much through the course of it’s Velvet Underground feel. Touches of piano embellish the chorus as Nick sings “With my voice I am calling you.”
Speaking of lyrics, they carry a stream of consciousness feel like the previous album’s Higgs Boson Blues, like he’s trying to exorcise what’s in his head. There are some lines though that chill to the bone, “You cried beneath the dripping trees, Ghost song lodged in the throat of a mermaid” barely hints at the depth of his grief.
Rings Of Saturn swings through next, all treated drums and weird keyboards. Nick let’s loose a stream of conscious lyrics. There’s still an air of sadness about the song, not in a direct way, but you certainly feel like the woman of the song is trapped in these pointless routines that she’s trying to cut herself off from.
A piano leads Girl In Amber with keyboard swells augmenting it, sounding closer to the usual Nick Cave we would expect. But again, it’s subverted by another vocal that makes it sibling to the previous one (“Girl in amber trapped forever, Spinning down the hall”), the girl in amber alluding to how they’ve become frozen in time. Cave’s voice sounds like he’s aching, trying to hold everything together (“If you want to leave, don’t breathe and let the world turn”) as everything is slipping away from him. “Don’t leave me” he repeats at the song’s closing, sounding more and more like he’s trapped, desperately trying to make sense of everything.
Magneto carries along Nick’s spoken word blues over a throbing and pulsating soundscape, describing himself as “an electrical storm on the bathroom floor”. It’s a nightmare described by David Lynch, allusions of blood, vomit, stars and love all scattering themselves throughout the song. The album is certainly fighting for the title of Cave’s most nonlinear and visceral yet.
Jazz drum loops rise and fall through Anthrocene. There’s a kind of primal feel to it, the bass lines constant and pushing the song along in absence of a steady beat, almost like a soundtrack to his suffering.
I Need You pulls itself together around a John Carpenter 80’s synth line. It’s video shows a visibly tired and exhausted Cave working on the song in the studio with the other Bad Seeds. Lyrically it feels the most direct and linear from Cave. Again, his voice sounds delicate without being weak. “I will miss you when you’re gone, I’ll miss you when you’re gone away forever” he sings, “Nothing really matters, Nothing really matters when the one you love is gone”. You can’t help but feel the tangible grief. I’ve always regarded Into My Arms as his most personal and direct song but this has surpassed it.
Distant Sky breaks the pattern by having Nick duet with Else Torpe, trading verses off each other, their voices complimenting each other perfectly both vocally and lyrically. Nick comes across as lost and sounding like he’s about to give up (“They told us our dreams would outlive us, They told us our gods would outlive us, But they lied”), a broken shell, angry and bitter at what he’s lost whilst Else trys to offer something along the lines of hope (“See the sun, See It Rising, See it rising, Rising in your eyes”).
The closing Skeleton Tree sounds the closest to a traditional Nick Cave song. It’s almost like he’s trying to return back to his life after everything he’s gone through on the album. There are still moments where he’s still dealing with his loss (“In the window, a candle”) but he’s reaching out to those around him (“I called out, I called out, Right across the sea”). The closing coda of “and it’s alright now” repeated and harmonised with other voices until it fades offers some sense of closure, especially after everything the listener has gone through.
The album leaves you emotionally spent. It’s the sound of a man howling away at his loss, trying to make sense of his changed world. They’re hymns to his pain and grief, sung to a God he believes has abandoned him. No God could be party to this, they couldn’t be this cruel. It’s an album for those moments of reflection when you’re alone, hoping to find some peace in all the chaos. I just hope that Nick and his family can find theirs.
Australian Nick Cave has slowly gained iconic status over the years. From singing love songs dripping in darkness to gaining chart success by singing about bashing Kylie Minogue’s head in with a rock, Nick’s career has always worn it’s own path. Drawing from sources like caberet, punk, blues, jazz and the Bible, his work has gained acceptance for following his own muse. Providing the musical backbone to his work are the Bad Seeds, an ever evolving cast of musicians who help flesh his work.
My first introduction to Nick Cave was back in the early 90’s when MTV actually played music (a novel concept, I know). I was watching a show called 120 Minutes that focused on alternative music. At the time I loved rock and metal but felt like musical palate needed expanding. This particular week Henry Rollins was the guest host. I was a huge fan of Rollins and had started reading some of his books. He said he was going to introduce one of his favourite songs by one of his favourite artists. He then showed a video featuring a scrawny Australian goth singing a duet with a startled looking German whilst dressed as priests in a row boat. This was certainly different to what I was used to.
The song was The Weeping Song and it immediately triggered a musical love affair that would endure over the years.
The Good Son was the first Nick Cave album I heard. I found a copy in the local library. I don’t quite know what I was expecting from it. Opening song Foi Na Cruz was unlike anything I’d heard since studying Brecht at college. The title track was something my rock fan brain could kind of understand. The Weeping Song tells the story of a questioning son and his father. The song mines a deep river of grief that is quite haunting, something the the tongue in cheek video completely ignores. It’s remained one of my favourites since.
Then comes The Ship Song, a love song that hits you like a thunderbolt. It’s simple yet so effective. His words speak of a longing for someome that is both touching and heat warming. Cave has written at length about the power of the love song and this, to me, is about as perfect as it gets. The song has also been covered by Pearl Jam and Amanda Palmer. Hell, even I’ve managed to pay tribute to this song.
People seem to be put off by Nick Cave by the way he sings and how the Bad Seeds deconstruct how a song is done. They’re wrong in these regards. His voice comes across as a soothing croon, infused with Sinatra as much as Cohen. Cave is a unique entity. There is a deepness that runs deep through his songs as they work their way to your soul and your heart. The Bad Seeds are one of music’s greatest backing bands. Yes, their approach can be somewhat unorthodox at times but they play perfect musical accompaniment to the lyrics. The Bad Seeds are vital in this respect. These aren’t designed as cheap pop throwaway ballads, these are songs for life.
His new album, Skeleton Tree has just been released, as well as the accompanying documentary One More Time With Feeling. I thought this was an appropriate time to look back three of his albums as he came into the general public eye back in the nineties, a time where you could actually see him on Top Of The Pops.
Let Love In
Let Love In was a breakthrough album for Nick and his troop. It was a case of right place right time with this album. The album opens and closes with different versions of the song Do You Love Me? which sets the tone perfectly. Opening with a shuffling jazz croon, Nick dances his way through the ten tracks. Loverman cuts a brutal figure, the darker side of love, setting a tone that he would revisit with the next album’s Stagger Lee. The promotional video sees the band hypnotised and performing strange acts, quite possibly the perfect Nick Cave video.
Red Right Hand has appeared petty much everywhere. It’s a song most people will know even if they don’t think they’ve heard Nick Cave before, appearing in The X-Files and becoming the unofficial theme to the Scream series of films. Recently it’s become the theme to the BBC show Peaky Blinders, a marriage made in musical heaven. The Red Right Hand of the song’s title refers to a passage in Milton‘s Paradise Lost, describing God’s vengeful side (there is a lot of biblical imagery in Nick’s work).
I Let Love In is probably the album’s most upbeat song whilst hinting at the darker side of love. This is certainly one of his strong points. He takes the notion of something that should be relatively sweet (the love ballad) and infused it with sourness and dark imagery and themes worthy of Gothic writers like Shelley. In fact, you can listen to Nick lecture on the love song here.
The album opens and closes with Do You Love Me? (parts one and two respectively). Both are totally different to each other whilst still keeping a distant genetic link to each other. It’s worth pointing out the opening song’s promo video which features the band cavorting around like they’re at some bizarre disco, a sign of Cave’s under appreciated and sometimes bizarre sense of humour.
Murder Ballads became a commercial and critical high point for Nick’s career, partially helped by his ‘hit single’ with Kylie Minogue that got a few people talking. But it’s also possibly the perfect starting point for new comers as it covers pretty much every facet of his work. It includes Cave takes on some traditional murder ballads (normally associated to folk music) and his own songs, some that had been sitting around for several years waiting for a suitable demented home before being released.
The album opens with Song Of Joy, a title dripping in blood and irony as Nick intoned the words “Have mercy on me sir…..” at it’s opening. The lyrics on the album are examples of his narrative skills, each song containing it’s own self contained story. Song Of Joy follows the story of a physician who, whilst visiting a sick friend, returns home one night to find his wife and two daughters brutally murdered. It’s not the cheeriest or uplifting album opening but it sets out the album’s intentions perfectly.
Stagger Lee, well, staggers up next, a take on a traditional song. It’s been one of my favourites since it’s release. It tells the tale of Stagger Lee who walks into the Bucket Of Blood, a bar, and engages the barman in conversation before murdering it’s occupants. The song is driven along by a muted staccato guitar part that perfectly sits alongside the spat out lyrics before it all descends into a cacophony of noise, all squealing guitar and screams. Again, the video has it’s tongue firmly planted in it’s cheek as Nick dances and jabs his finger at the screen whilst wearing a skin tight pink boy band tshirt.
After the song’s violence, the more gentler Henry Lee follows it up. In this traditional folk song, the title character is stabbed and killed by his lover, in this song played by PJ Harvey who became Nick’s lover and focus for his next album.
Lovely Creature appears next and, to be honest, is quickly forgotten especially as the string section heralding the next song start. Cave duetting with Kylie Minogue on Where The Wild Roses Grow caused a lot of press at the time as Miss Minogue was well known as the star of Australian soap opera ‘Neighbours‘ as well the singer of disposable pop songs. In the song Nick and Kylie trade verses with each each other. If it wasn’t for the fact that album is called Murder Ballads you wouldn’t be expecting the end as Nick’s character violently murders Elisa Day (Kylie’s character) after a short but intense love affair. Again, there’s no happy ending.
The Curse Of Millhaven is an almost comedic cabaret influenced ditty that takes the relatively sedate death count of the previous songs and creates a full blown massacre as fifteen year old Lottie goes on a major killing spree, knocking off victim after victim in the small town of Millhaven. In fact the teenage psychopath even owns up to more murders and a major act of arson after she’s caught. “All God’s children they all got to die” sings Nick/Lottie for the song’s chorus. And who can’t smile at the line “It’s Rorschach and Prozac and everything is groovy”?
The warning tale The Kindness Of Strangers comes and goes without leaving much impression. It’s a real shame that an album that has some fantastic songs on has some that really dip for me. Crow Jane swaggers in, all walking bass lines and sparse guitar and drums. At least it’s a bit more musically interesting than the previous song.
If it’s one thing I’ve learned from this album it’s beware of bars that Nick Cave sings about. O’Malley’s Bar features the song’s unnamed protagonist killing it’s occupants one by one and in great detail. It’s worth the price of the album alone and at almost fifteen minutes long it certainly provides the perfect canvas for his murderous narrative. Each vocal line is perfectly placed for maximum impact. The song is great fun, a real sense of gallow humour courses through the song. In fact you feel kind of sad when he’s caught and driven away at the end of the song. It’s a fantastic take but is possibly outshone by the version on his b-sides collection where it’s broken into three parts for a radio session.
The album closes with a take on Bob Dylan‘s Death Is Not The End (Live), an ensemble of vocalists taking turns with the song’s lines. It acts as the ideal way to close the album out, sedate and reverential with a feeling that the vocalists were all giggling as they finished singing their lines.
“Just remember that death is not the end“
The Boatman’s Call
For their tenth album, Nick and the Bad Seeds had a tough act to follow. Murder Ballads had seen his star rise to what many thought was a peak. Where could he take his audience now? The answer would give us a sparse and intimate collection of songs. Sometimes they’re so personal the listener feels like we’re intruding.
The album is often seen as Nick’s love letter to PJ Harvey, with whom he’d shared a brief relationship with, but it also seems directed to Viviane Carneiro who Nick was married to and with who they both share a son. It’s an album about love, being in love, and love lost. It’s almost spiritual in places with what he is trying to say as an artist.
If you were expecting Murder Ballads Part II you’d be completely off course. The previous album was a cacophony at times and The Boatman’s Call is the complete opposites. There’s space in the songs and a dynamic that let’s the song’s breathe. The piano weaves it way around lyrics that reach deep into your soul and ask you questions you may be afraid to answer.
It opens with the gentle, understated Into My Arms, a sparse piano led ballad. “I don’t believe in an interventionist God” intones Nick to his unnamed recipient, “But I know, darling, that you do.” The song (and it’s accompanying video) are simple, direct and very moving. It’s quite possibly the perfect love song as Nick describes what he would do for this person and what they meanto him. It could be about a lover, child, friend. It’s ambiguity means it’s incredibly relatable to and can be interpreted in various ways (he performed it at the funeral of his friend and INXS frontman Michael Hutchence).
The full band strike up on the next song, Lime Tree Arbour. Again, the pace is gentle and there’s something comforting about the song. The mix allows all the musicians space to play without clutter. Nothing feels out of place.
If you had to pick artists who would never appear on a kids film soundtrack, Nick Cave would appear on that list. However, People Ain’t No Good appears in the film Shrek 2. Again, the song is gentle and bare in it’s arrangement, brushed drums gently ushering the song along as Nick sings the song’s title as a chorus.
Brompton Oratory starts with what sounds like the sound of a muted drum machine but it’s no dance song. Again it’s sedate. Where before an album like this would bring a lustier Nick to the fore we find a more mature Nick singing and performing with the Bad Seeds following him.
There Is A Kingdom contains the only real carnal act in the album around a song that feels almost like a hymn, especially in the chorus (“There is a Kingdom and there is a king”).
Second single (Are You) The One I’ve Been Waiting For? carries on the sedate pace of the album and is the perfect delicate partner to Into My Arms. It’s not an album of big, sing along choruses. It’s the kind of album you listen and grow along with.
Where Do We Go Now But Nowhere? follows the same themes and pacing of previous tracks before we come to West Country Girl, a song so blatantly about PJ Harvey that she immediately comes to mind as soon as you hear it. Black Hair is the same. The lyrics are pure love songs to her, songs of longing and almost worship. Black Hair could even be described as sensual in the way Cave draws the imagery to your mind.
The closing trio of Idiot Prayer, Far From Me and Green Eyes finish off the album without deviating from the formula that Cave and the other Bad Seeds have laid down over the previous album tracks, their lyrics reading like romantic Gothic poetry (in the classical literature sense). There are no noisy tracks that you would expect from previous albums. This is the sound of Nick Cave starting to grow into a respected singer and songwriter. This is someone accepting getting older and accepting who they are.
In the years after that Nick would continue to release some amazing work. The Bad Seeds would remain in a slight state of flux with both guitarists Blixa Bargeld and Mick Harvey eventually leaving the band allowing Warren Ellis, the band’s violinist (and member of the Dirty Three) to step up to become Nick’s musical foil. Warren brings and new sense of chaos to the Bad Seeds music, creating a whole range of noise and melody with various stringed instruments.
Nick’s new album could be his most poignant and personal to date, with recording starting just before his young son’s accidental health. But he’s always dealt wth loss and heartbreak in his work. I just hope that people don’t view it with ghoulish relish. This is the continued work of a man who dares to bare his soul.
Paul Miro is better known as frontman of British rock band Apes, Pigs & Spacemen, but over the past few years he’s being carving a career out of making music for film and television as well as his own solo career. These have heavily influenced his latest album Sinombré Volume One All Hope Is Gone, possibly his most deep and complex work to date.As the title suggests the album is the first of a pair (part two Broken Angels is marked to follow next year) that are set in a dystopian future where the world as we know it has fallen apart.
Musical themes and motifs run throughout the sixteen track album, and will probably continue through the next album too, as the tale of Sinombré is continued. Sixteen songs make it sound like it’ll be heavy going but it’s not (the lengthiest track topping just over the five minute mark). It’s also cool to see that in an age and market where music is expected to be consumed quickly due to our society’s disposable nature, Sinombré is a work of depth. The whole album can be viewed as a continuous musical journey.
The more I listen to this album the more I get out of it. I’ve been listening to it pretty much daily since I got the download. It’s been one of those peices of work that rewards you the more you listen to it. The past week or so has seen a few things worm my way into my skull so much so that I messaged Paul about my feelings on it as I’ve explored the album deeper. I’ve also pulled together quotes from the Pledge campaign and some chats we’ve had online over the past couple of months.
The Concept Behind Sinombré
“It’s a two-album concept” says Paul. “The pledge campaign that’s currently running (note – this was when the campaign was running, it has now since closed) is for the first part. It’s a dark, dystopian journey into swamp Americana. It started when I was working on an album for a TV project, which was all about the kind of themes that a lot of big TV shows follow – Vampires. demons, ghosts and things that will come and get you while you sleep. I loved the soundscape that I was building for it, and it set me to thinking that, rather than write about mythical demons, it would be great to write an album about the thre real demons in our midst. There’s this dark Western/Americana musical soundscape throughout, but the lyrics are really political. Personally, I’m prouder of it than anything I’ve completed to date. The ‘overall’ two album vibe is a start-to-somewhere story cycle. The way I look at it is, if you are of the disposition to get into the whole journey, concept, then it’s a film in two parts, so it builds and shifts with a dramatic arc. There is a definite sonic vibe throughout, but album two is a little more intense in places. But, the main thing is, that the strength of the songs as stand-alones means you don’t have to get.”
To me, the album has three distinct acts or song cycles. There’s The Beginning Of The End (which comprises Nothing Left Here (Part One) up to Travelogue), The Beast (Night Fall up to Fall From Grace) and finally there’s The Beast Triumphant (which runs from Swimming In The Dowling Pool to Nothing Left Here (Part Two). The Beast character runs through the entire narrative, being hinted at early on and becoming a fully fledged character later on in the album.
There is certainly a cinematic scope to the album. In fact, the album’s cover a silhouette of a figure beside a bare tree framed in earthy browns, burnt oranges and yellows hints at the work of film genius Sergio Leone‘s ‘Dollars‘ trilogy. It’s certainly an album with a broad musical palate, the musical equivalent of Technicolor. It’s a broad presentation with layered instrumentation that reveal hidden depths. I’ve been listening to it constantly since it’s digital release it and it really just keeps unfolding, revealing hidden musical passages and codas. Listening to the actual cd is a musical revelation. The songs increase in their depth. Sonically they take on a new life which I never thought possible. This is an album that just keeps on growing.
As Paul has mentioned before, the album started it’s musical life being inspired from soundscapes he was creating for a television project. The album drips in Ry Cooder-esque twangy guitars, reverb and a denseness that that can only be created by understanding the importance of space.
This is where Paul’s recent work as a soundtrack composer comes to the fore. Ignoring what would be the standard approach to a rock based album, Paul has unleashed an arsenal of musical weaponry you wouldn’t quite expect. Guitars and drums sit alongside electronica and pianos. The music is infused with touches of Tom Waits bar room drawl as well as Ennio Morricone‘s widescreen soundtrack masterpieces. In fact, you half expect Clint Eastwood‘s Man With No Name to appear, his weather blasted face scowling from under his hat.
Paul’s been quite a busy guy with the album. He’s done pretty much everything with it. Writing, performing, recording, engineering, mixing and producing the whole thing. He probably made his own cups of coffee too. There’s only a smattering of other names listed on the credits. Tony Wright appears as the narrator on End Of Days (recorded in a windy car park before he went onstage), backing vocals on Find The Beast are provided by Emily Ewing whilst Swimming In The Dowling Pool features the talents of Willie Dowling on harpsichord, organ, backing vocals and misanthropy.
I don’t think I’ve ever seen artwork from an album reflect the contents so well in a long time. As I’ve previously mentioned the cover suggests bleakness and desolation with the bare tree and shadowy figure. Normally the colours used would suggest warmth but to me it’s the kind of warmth you only get by burning everything to the ground.
The album artwork as well as photographs used in the PDF booklet and the campaign were provided by longtime collaborator Haluk Gurer. Dilapidated buildings, dark woods, walls with peeling paint and abandoned rooms suggest a world that has fallen a long way from what we know. It’s almost like the world of Sinombré has turned it’s back (by force?) on it’s past. Colours and textures are exaggerated to make what should be familiar that little bit unnatural.
There’s also been a series of videos put together by Ian Husbands to help drum up interest in the project featuring Alan Doyle Booth as The Devil, telling people to buy the album and taking credit for the project. Ian is also behind the videos for The Only Devil and The Devil Made Me.
The World Of Sinombré
Although it’s never really pinned down as such, Sinombré lives in a world where society has collapsed. In the PledgeMusic exclusive track Atavista (another video by Ian Husbands that can be found here), Paul narrates the story of mankind’s fall from grace through its own greed. Things seem to have fallen apart to a point where all of mankind’s hopes have gone (“Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold; Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world” – ‘The Second Coming’ by W.B. Yates). There is nothing left to fight for, chaos and selfishness reign the land.
Cues for this post apocalyptic environment are taken from our real world. It’s not hard to see that in the past few months since the Sinombré pledge campaign was launched in March this year the news reports have been filled with anger and hatred, violence and civil unrest. The world has become a hotbed of terrorism and distrust. It feels like we’re about to tip headlong into Sinombré at any moment.
The Beginning Of The End
The first section of the album is comprised of eight songs, which make up the first half of the album. The opening pairing of Nothing Left Here Part 1 and the spoken word End Of Days (narrated by Tony Wright of Terrorvision fame) set the tone of the album by hinting at the past. What’s happened isn’t spelt out, it’s left to your imagination. This is perfect as it allows scope for you to draw your own conclusions which helps you make Sinombré more of a personal experience as you help create it’s past. Paul doesn’t spoon feed the story, it’s up you to draw things out of the album.
“Out on the bleak horizon there rages a storm with no reprieve” croons Paul in a deep, husky voice on the title track (and single) All Hope Is Gone, the song’s character sounding resigned to their bleak fate before the final chorus kicks it up several notches. His voice sounds the best it’s sounded in his twenty year or so career and considering some of his performances in the past that’s high praise indeed. Paul has spent time to craft a career best with this album. When he says it’s his best work yet you can’t and won’t disagree with the man. Suddenly Righteous lists past catastrophes and injustices with a upbeat manner that belies the subject matter. And let’s face it, any song that features the lyrics “tickety boo” is alright in my book.
It’s around this point in the album where the themes and concepts start dropping into place. When I say concepts, to me the album draws parallels with albums like Pink Floyd‘s The Wall, Queensyche‘s Operation: Mindcrime and Green Day‘s American Idiot (incidently, aren’t concept albums the modern equivalent of classical opera?). Album’s where there’s more of a abstract concept and the listener fills in some of the spaces themselves. This is not a bad thing. To me it’s great that not everything is handed to you on a plate. You have to do some of the work yourself and part of the reward is peaking under another layer of the album.
The short instrumental Wilderness sneaks up before the self-assured arrogance of Nest Of Vipers rears it’s head. There’s a Middle Eastern feel to this song, hints of Zeppelin‘s Kashmir helps give it a certain swagger. Again, another song with an epic feel without running too long. In fact, most of the songs on this album could be put out as singles and they would all sound great on the radio (possibly a pre-Sinombré time concept). The Party is the final full song of this section, it’s final lyric of “we’ll strike a light and watch it burn” brings the first act to it’s conclusion. The fire burns away the remnants of the old world away, leaving Travelogue, another brief instrumental piece, to bridge the gap between the first and second act of Sinombré.
The middle part of the album is made up of four songs that focus on the character of the Beast, the album’s dark, shadowy manipulator. For me, the Beast is very reminiscent of Randall Flagg from Stephen King‘s The Stand and Dark Tower series. In these books, Flagg goes under several aliases such as the Walkin’ Dude, The Dark Man and The Man In Black (and, no, I don’t mean Johnny Cash) before revealing himself and his true nature: destruction, disorder and death. The Beast is similar to Flagg as he’s not so much a character but more of a concept of evil that flows like a river that flows throughout the album. Always in flux and adapting to the situation, but revelling in the chaos that follows in it’s wake.
It’s this section that feels the most cinematic of the three. The Beast weaves his/her/their way through the four songs, creating sonic tapestries that sit a little different to the other songs on the album but with similar themes that tie each other together.
Night Fall is the first of the quartet. The song is quite feral, hinting that the Beast is part of us all, that dark shadowy nature that most of us keep in check. Nods to transforming from one state to another harken back to folk tales and lycanthropy but here it’s not a literal change in character that the song alludes to, more that the Beast is inside is all. The primal drive of the chorus gives way to a sweeping widescreen chorus, possibly the one that feels the biggest on the album.
Find The Beast dances it’s way up next like Tom Waits fronting the Urban Voodoo Machine. Emily Ewing’s backing vocals help add a softness to Paul’s rasping character vocal. Here the Beast seems to meet his end after being eviciserated but as the lyrics point out “the beast’s in there” inside us all, once again reinforcing part of the album’s concept as being thematic, not narrative. Again, the rhythm of the song differs to others on the album, something that ties most of the songs together. This one swings to a Latino infused backbeat. Strictly Come Sinombré anyone?
Devil Man Jump kicks in with it’s chorus and doesn’t let up it’s upbeat pace before dropping in a killer slide guitar solo.
Act two bows out with Fall From Grace taking it’s musical cues from the previous Find The Beast. The song’s narrator croons of their own inevitable fall whilst allowing his Beast to take dominance. There is a lot of talk of duality in the album’s lyrics, of opposites. These really come to the fore in this song, acknowledging that it is man’s nature that had caused whatever calamity it is currently wallowing in.
The Beast Triumphant
The final act opens with what is musically the most different sounding song on the album. Swimming In The Dowling Pool is full of regal flourishes thanks the harpsichord of Willie Dowling (the song is a nod to his band The Dowling Pool who Miro occasionally opens for). Lyrically the song is a lot more gentle than others on the album, the lyrics more reflective (“so many questions without evidence”).
The Only Devil is swamp blues married to hip hop, it’s verse vocals more spat out over a beat and slide guitar whilst the chorus warns us that “the only devil is you.” A bar room piano and muted horn section leads the torch song Sun’s Gonna Shine, a song that wouldn’t sound out of place sung in some dive jazz bar late at night. Even though the song is quite restrained and downbeat it offers up hope by recognising that “a little rain is gonna fall before the sun is gonna shine on you.”
The album is rounded off with Nothing Left Here (Part II), a gentle reprise of the opening song with different lyrics. The words touch on the themes of the album whilst offering a ray of light in the darkness, similar in a way that The Empire Strikes Back offers that grain of hope to balance the pretty grim revelations.
Pledge Exclusive And Bonus Songs
Paul included several extra songs within the campaign. Atavista (which I’ve previously covered) set the theme and tone of the coming album, whilst Nothing Left Here (Supplemental) draws a nice line under everything with tongue in cheek references to the campaign (“just a story or two, left the ending wide open”) and “all the angels are broken” reminding us that there’s a part two to come. There’s also The Devil Made Me, a b-side to the single version of All Hope Is Gone that you can download from iTunes and Amazon. Again, it’s another song that would have fit on the album and is worth the purchase.
There was the option for Sinombré 1b The Devil’s Arithmetic, a companion album to the main event. The eleven track album comprised six new songs and five acoustic versions of songs that appeared on the main album (in order All Hope Is Gone, Swimming In The Dowling Pool, Find The Beast, The Only Devil and Sun’s Gonna Shine). But whereas most acoustic versions reek a bit of cash in, offering fairly simple readings of the original songs, Paul has spent time on reworking these versions to suit an acoustic approach. If they’d appeared on the album in this form people wouldn’t have felt short changed at all, but extras they offer a different musical view on some musically accomplished songs.
The new tracks comprise three instrumentals (Outlaw, Aces & Eights and the surftastic Dead Man’s Tale), two ‘full band’ songs (The Devil’s Ride and Evil Is Comin’) and an acoustic Ghostheart that’s worth the album asking price on its own.
Didn’t get around to pledging for it? Well, unfortunately you’re too late now but I’ve got several pairs of shoes you can loan to kick yourself with…..
Paul has succeeded in creating and running a really successful pledge music campaign. On top of that he’s created what some of his audience are saying is his best work to date, and it’s hard to argue with that opinion. Sinombré has been my go to album to listen to in past month or so. If this isn’t my top album of the year then something simply PHENOMENAL has been released by someone. And, hand on heart, I can’t see that happening.
I’d like to say a big thank you to Paul for doing this album as well as being so supportive with me writing this. Also, i would like to thanks Haluk Gurer for sending me the photos I’ve used in this feature.
Sinombré Volume One All Hope Is Gone will be on sale from his website shortly.