Friday, December 29, 2006
Sweeping The Nation Albums Of 2006: Number 3
The inherent beauty of liking music is that sometimes it really surprises you. We'd vaguely heard the name Jeremy Warmsley before we found some demos on his website back in March, which led to our extracting more details from him, but then came a run of pin sharp singles culminating in this, a self-written, produced, mixed and arranged debut album of extraordinary breadth, depth and intricacy, an ambitious but relatively compact effort that more than anything finds an answer to the great impregnable of Noughties alternative, how to mix traditional British-facing songcraft with electronics. The answer all along, apparently, was to approach it from all angles at once, making it completely impossible to pin down to a genre or stylistic pigeonhole, songs pulled apart by the sheer force of habit that is ideas being piled on top of one another. A lot of the time it'd just sound a mess, but it's all underpinned by a sense of forward direction, where all the chord changes and seemingly random effects thrown into the mix are carefully positioned to enhance the arrangements and melodies as much as the moods and complexities. It's an album to immerse yourself in and pick out the details over time.
And what details. Dirty Blue Jeans pitches straight in with strident, stabbing strings mixing in with and occasionally echoed by the synths over a stuttering beat just off the pace, often breaking down into component parts or seemingly a different time signature. Eventually it sidesteps into a brief period of distorted guitar and drum crescendos as Warmsley declares "I'm still in control" before turning back and piling on backing vocals, swirling strings and a partly muted horn section appearing from somewhere on the right channel, and then everything breaks down again into humming keyboards and some jazz piano buried in the mix as Warmsley, whose compelling vocals are best compared to a restrained amalgam of Conor Oberst, Rufus Wainwright and Brian Eno, declares "if it doesn't work out I'll come home and be alone". Dirty Blue Jeans, by the way, is eight seconds over three minutes long. I Promise is at least simpler, built on martial drums and a simple message of dislocated love, but no less effective, as is intimate piano ballad I Knew That Her Face Was A Lie, a prime example of the intriguing lyrics that are just about as intricate as the musical accompaniment. The uplifting 5 Verses is an even better example, a pounding electronic beat backing a tale of a girl finding a boy falling for her and going along with it "to string him along" only to get mightily confused. From here the album edges into more electronic climes, bar Modern Children, an almost straightforward, breezy uplift with a dark undertow and widescreen ambition that keeps threatening to turn into Interpol. The Young Man Sees The City As A Chessboard driven by tingling keyboards and the odd appearance of a beat that edges towards drum'n'bass, creating a dark atmosphere that matches the lyrical references to death and war and sounds like nobody so much as a vocalised Aphex Twin, while A Matter Of Principle's cut and paste suggests Tunng meets Animal Collective in a laptop. I Believe In The Way You Move is extraordinary for different reasons, driven by Tom Rogerson's liquid piano (nearest immediate pop comparison: Steve Nieve's accompaniment to Elvis Costello's more grandiose moments), lo-fi electronics and Emmy The Great's harmony backing vocals under Warmsley's declarations of guilt and hope in love. And that's the key in a way. The Art Of Fiction, essentially, is a musical 3D jigsaw - it shouldn't fit together by the law of averages, but it does, and it does so spectacularly.
LISTEN ON: Modern Children
WATCH ON: Dirty Blue Jeans in Jeremy's kitchen; I Promise solo live in Manchester
NOT WANTING TO BLOW OUR OWN TRUMPET, BUT...: Not bad for a first effort on our part, is it?
READ ON: Platform Six catches up with Jeremy at Bestival