Saturday, December 30, 2006
Sweeping The Nation Albums Of 2006: Number 2
The curveball inherent to all those who heard Through The Windowpane for the first time having been previously aware of Guillemots' experiments in sunblessed skewiff pop is how...well...finished a record it is. The MGM strings drifting in and out throughout the extended introduction to Little Bear act as a sign that something's up that's at odds with much of what British music sees as grandiosity these days, before Fyfe Dangerfield, who also co-produced and orchestrated this monolith, enters bearing a song of simple beauty amid such a widescreen vista, a lullaby with an inherent sadness and disturbing undertow ("I wouldn't wanna cause you anything that might break your lovely face off/In a thousand shattered china pieces"). It pitches the album perfectly in a place of individual atmospheric charge. In other, less precise hands it'd be unbearable overblown guff, but as it goes on to prove this is music that goes to these lengths because it feels confident enough to believe it can.
It's this template that's referred to on many of the album's most affecting moments, most notably the tenderly hopeful lament of Redwings (featuring soaring violin and echoed chorus vocals from Joan 'As Police Woman' Wasser) and Blue Would Still Be Blue, which goes to the other sonic spectrum extreme with just Dangerfield's underrated, raw, yearning voice and plinks from an old Casio. At other times what this approach means is redefining and stretching the boundaries to breaking point of the hook-laden pop song. Made Up Love Song #43, for instance starts tenderly amid whirring keyboards and Dangerfield seeing "majesty in a burnt out caravan", breaks into inverted near-IRS REM with a breakbeat, brings choral harmony backing along, hits a wordless plateau and spends its last minute breaking down to squeaks, squeals and, obviously, the effect of powerdrill on guitar. Trains To Brazil sounds like the big pop hit it deserved to be, driven by euphoric brass and Dangerfield's insistence that we seize the day cross-referenced to the Jean Charles de Menezes killing referred to in the title and the Tube bombing circumstances leading to it, the defiant tone suggesting that the song is partly being addressed to a girl killed in the bombings ("lives like yours were in the hands of these erroneous fools") The title track meanwhile sees Dangerfield declaring "I saw life chanting out the mantra/if you want it, let it go", then turning the vocal backwards in the middle before Dangerfield takes off at the same time MC Lord Magrao's treated guitar does for a Technicolor explosion of synthaesia colour and sound. At the last Sao Paolo chucks everything into one enormous melting pot, starting like Mark Hollis of Talk Talk's desolate experiments, seamlessly melding into a bruised AM piano ballad before the strings return, developing into a more grandiose version of early Tom Waits before the cinematic nature overpowers both voice and piano and builds to...nothing, apart from a quiet moment of Fyfe consideration and the introduction of the repeated phrase "thrown across water like a stone" before being joined by a carnival beat, rousing horns and that drill again in the background, then everything previously mentioned at the same time building to an immense coda climaxing in tubular bells, keyboard explosions, kitchen sinks and everything the band could get their hands on, and after the probably ironic xylophone finish suddenly you find you're twelve minutes older and not quite able to completely comprehend what just happened. People have compared it to Coldplay. They might as well compare it to Napalm Death for all they have in common beyond an awareness of Jeff Buckley's Grace and the number for a string section. There's quite a few references here to things around us - sun, moon, sky - and it's this that the record aims for, something intimate and meaningful in a good way but that can still be seen and experienced from space. It's ambitious, but without ambition you not only get nowhere but would have no chance of making such a fully realised record right off the bat such as this.
LISTEN ON: Redwings
WATCH ON: Trains To Brazil live at the Mercury Awards; Annie Let's Not Wait busked in Paris on guitar, double bass, horns, saw, drumsticks and typewriter; had to include this too - live Blue Would Still Be Blue
NOT WANTING TO BLOW OUR OWN TRUMPET, BUT...: Fyfe told us before the album about how it all works out
READ ON: An equally individual take on the modern pop interview by Fyfe for SoundsXP