Thursday, 14 April 2011

Review: Guillemots - Walk The River

I’m sad to see the BBC review has been used in the Amazon product description for this album, as I completely disagree. I’ve pre-ordered my (signed!) copy of Walk The River but have been listening to it repeatedly on Hype Machine, where it has been exclusively available to stream in full. I believe that this latest Guillemots effort deserves a lot more praise, and a lot of listens.

It’s my favourite album of 2011 so far (and I’ll be surprised if any others this year will top it), and my new favourite Guillemots record. I’m not going to do the Defensive Fan thing – I’ve given it time and lots of listens and won’t let my standing appreciation cloud my judgement with bias. I’m not a music snob and I’m not in competition with any other reviewers to see who can describe it with the most eloquence and professionalism… so excuse me if I just give my honest opinion. Like bumholes, everybody has one and here’s mine (not my…. yeah.).

Fyfe and the gang are years ahead of other musicians in terms of imagination and songwriting ability. This is one of those albums where you will grow to love every song with each listen, it won’t date, and could be the perfect soundtrack for any moment – grey rainy moping days, or a random drive on a summer’s day. Like the previous releases, Through The Windowpane and Red, Walk the River is the perfect mix of light and dark. Wherever you listen to it, it’ll make you stop and think, and it absorbs me totally.

My favourite track of WTR is without a doubt the perfectly heartbreaking “I Don’t Feel Amazing Now” and has been since we saw Fyfe and Greig on YouTube performing it acoustically under a bridge (well worth a listen, I insist). With touching lyrics and floaty strings, it makes me want to give the 'mots frontman a cup of tea and a cuddle. If you liked Made Up Lovesong No.43 (and lets face it, who doesn’t?) you’ll like this one. The beauty of Guillemots is that their sound transcends from studio to acoustic versions of tracks so magically – that it’s possible to love both just as much. I can never pick a favourite but am constantly amazed and surprised by the transformation between the pared-down, honest openness of just Mr Dangerfield and his guitar to all-guns-blazing, steel-drum-solo, music-pouring-from-every-orifice majesty.

The first single to be released, The Basket, is more in the vein of past stompers like Trains To Brazil. Ice Room really makes you believe the lyrics of “I’m so alive”. I Must Be A Lover builds up to a drumbeat you can’t help bouncing in time with, and the familiar Guillemots brand of eclectic but subtle instruments and rousing vocals. Just as you think you’ve got a track sussed, they mix it all up again. Things that sound like they’d never work on paper are pure genius in reality. Slow Train features sexy synths and a gradually slowing tempo that is barely noticeable (similar to what we heard in Annie Let's Not Wait & Clarion). Ironically, it's paired with the lyric "don't slow me down". I’ve been told by a proper musician that it’s very clever and very difficult to do (show offs). The title track and opener, Walk The River is a runner-up in my favourites – stunning, and I’ve been singing it everywhere. Dangerfield’s vocals are the perfect match as always, flitting easily between soft and powerful – my fella always think he sounds best when he’s at breaking point, and I have to agree. Vermillion, Tigers and Inside are all great tracks that are not to be sneered at.

Sometimes I Remember Wrong (great title) may not be one of the frontrunners, and yes, being 9 minutes and 16 seconds long could bore some listeners. Yesterday Is Dead is not far behind length wise but is a fitting closer (warning – slightly creepy childlike vocals...). Dancing In The Devil’s Shoes, is also a slow burner. But personally, being someone who is usually very impatient and known to skip tracks, I think it’s a great way to spend 10 minutes. It was easy for me to appreciate the subtle details and nuances of these tracks, which are no worse or better than others when it comes to compositional ability. Every track seems to have hidden layers that are discovered with each listen. It definitely gets taken down a gear towards the end of the album, but in no way declines in quality or acts as filler.

If I have any complaints, it’s that I think it’s missing a little bit of the piano-thumping, almost aggressive nature of songs like Kriss Kross and Get Over It. There doesn’t seem to be a secret formula, but their creative process works. In some ways, Walk The River is more melancholy, and grown up, but still tender. Ultimately, it’s Genius disguised as Simplicity.

This album was very easy to love, for me. Bring on the Secret Gig…
Listen here....

I don't feel amazing now...

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