Thursday, 23 September 2010
Friday, 17 September 2010
A thousand years ago an advert proclaimed, ‘You can’t hurry a Murray’s’ referring to an old school boiled mint sweet. Well there is something of the Murray Mint to Her Name is Calla. It’s been a couple of years since I first brushed up against them around the time of the Heritage mini-album and my quest to get a copy of the majestic Condor and River. The full album has been long promised and much anticipated but The Quiet Lamb is now here, well almost. In an arcane and magical sort of way I seem to be the proud owner of the album before my wooden boxed and card-stuffed version comes tumbling through my door next month or so. Consequently I have been treating myself to many-a listen to this 70 minute plus opus.
HNIC don’t do short cuts, neither do they do hurried and in a time where everything seems to be faster, impatient and needing immediacy, this is welcome counterpoint. HNIC isn’t for everyone, this isn’t going to be up your street if you’re looking for a jolly sing-along or a smack between the eyes hook and chorus. Thankfully for an old prog type like me this is no problem. The slow build, reveal and development in The Quiet Lamb of course has its echoes these days in the perhaps unhelpful nomenclature that is post-rock, shoe-gaze and all the rest, but it also brings back more resonant memories of the album structures of Tangerine Dream and going back further still symphonic structures perhaps of Stravinsky or maybe Bruckner . Oh dear that sounds all rather worthy and pretentious, safe to say HNIC do carefully considered and structured music, written with a lot of heart and invested with a deep sense of authenticity and honesty
The Quiet Lamb is no easy piece of work. It does demand to be listened to in its entirety and at over 70 minutes that’s not always easy to achieve. The album mostly does manage to work as a whole, the shorter pieces such as Intervals I and II together with the perhaps too fragile, Homecoming inevitably suffer in comparison with the substantial set pieces across the work, which is a shame because they merit closer attention that simply link pieces.
The major tracks are either monumental pieces in their own rights, like Condor and River, or combine together as ‘movements’ of extended pieces as with Blood Promise and its associated track (and personal favourite)Pour More Oil and the three part suite The Union. IMHO I might have preferred Long Grass and Thief to be put together in a similar fashion but that’s not how it ended up.
Whilst there is of course a pervading melancholia to the set, inevitable given the provenance of some of the songs, it doesn’t feel maudlin or depressive to me. As you would hope there is a real sense of progression from earlier recordings, greater sensitivity in recording, Tom Morris’ vocals sounding much stronger and more assured, the greater use of horns and strings add splendid layers to the sound, altogether a much more grow-up and mature affair. An interesting little history of HNCI can be found here
I know from reading the excellent and helpful track by track article by Tom in The Line of Best Fit that the trilogy that is The Union is clearly an important collection for HNIC. It is in truth, well for me anyway, the most difficult part of the album and in particular the Recidivist middle section. Whilst I am growing to love the trilogy, the Recidivist still feel s like it needed a bit more work and maybe a little more discipline and structure imposed upon the second half of this very personal and raw piece. The final part Into the West is indeed a dense full on gallop off into the proverbial sunset replete with Mexicana horns, pounding drums and everything including the kitchen sink thrown into the mix.The Quiet Lamb has been more than worth the wait and is certainly worth ordering up from their Label Denovali . A significant piece of work, at times soaring at others almost pastoral, but throughout imbued with an intensity and personality so sadly lacking in much output these days. This is band that deserves a greater audience and a band that promises even better things to come – one of my albums of the year, bless their cotton socks.
Thursday, 2 September 2010
The tickets for Jonsi at the Colston Hall were bought months ago on the basis of an album I had then yet to hear and which I still don’t know very well. As it turned out the show was the night of the first day back to work after the holidays and I was in two minds whether to go or not. The Lad and I did go though and to what must perhaps be the most astonishing gig I have been to.
There are times when music is transcendent, taking you to another level of being (promise no shrooms were consumed), however fleetingly. These are the special moments, the moments when you are so absorbed, so transported, and in truth such moments are still rare.
This was one of those nights. At times it felt impossible to take it all in – the music, the musicianship, the animations, lights and camera feeds all blending together. Its not often possible or appropriate to describe a concert as beautiful, but this was – the fallen-angelic falsetto, the melodies woven into sweeping sound-scapes, sometimes fragile and faltering at other times majestic and symphonic.
To tell the truth I had little idea which songs were played (but I am assuming that the set list is pretty much as per previous shows as below, virtually the whole album plus a bit – which goes to show how rubbish I am at not recognising these extraordinary live versions). Whether he was singing in English, Icelandic, Hopplandish or double-dutch I wasn’t sure and it mattered not a jot.
After buying the tickets I read glowing reports of the show and they were all true. You could see the show night after night and still get something new from it. The level of meticulous planning and preparation (by 59 Productions, see vid clip below) was amazing and of course necessarily made it far from spontaneous, but there was a completeness, a wholeness, carefully judged and precisely delivered and still in a manner that made it feel special despite the dozens of times they must have performed this set now. The video below gives a small sense of the intensity of the show, but is not able to properly pass on the actual experience of Grow Till Tall, the closer.
A couple of years ago we, as a family, took a helicopter flight over Mount St Helens and into the caldera itself. I was so awestruck that I kept forgetting to breath out, amazed at what we were seeing. All be it in a different context last night too was breath-taking. A brilliant, uplifting and astounding show.