Album Reviews

Emmett Elvin- Bloody Marvels

What do you want to get from music? Do you, like me, delve deep into the music trying to find the hidden depths, does it transfix you and take you to another world or, are you one of these people who will just listen to whatever is on the radio at the time? Do you listen to Capital Radio or Radio 1 and not wonder why you are listening to the formulaic drivel that they air?

Now, don’t get me wrong it has taken some time but I now appreciate that my incredibly deep love of meaningful music and how it affects my life isn’t for everyone. I do appreciate that, to some people, music is just there in the background, it is not life altering or life affirming, it just ‘is’. These people will never understand the joy of unravelling what, to them, is an unfathomable record and will not give it time to permeate into their inner-self and reveal its wonders.

I would imagine, by now, you know my musical preferences and how I sometimes like to hear a release that is from left field and not for general consumption. I think it shows utmost faith in that artists own music that they will release something knowing that it will only appeal to a limited audience. Well, I hear you ask (or maybe not, but it looks good in print) which artist, who has an unshakeable belief in their own work, has piqued my curiosity this time? Emmett Elvin, keyboard player from Knifeworld, Chrome Hoof and Guapo is releasing his follow up to his acclaimed collection of electronic and sample-based music ‘Emmettronica’, released last year. ‘Bloody Marvels’ is a collection of largely instrumental pieces performed on acoustic instruments.

 Released on the pleasingly eclectic ‘Bad Elephant Music Label’, the press release goes on to say,“Emmett is a master of guitar as well as keyboards, and plays a bewildering variety of both, stringed, keyed, struck and blown instruments to create this beguiling, atmospheric and haunting album. The record has been mixed and mastered by renowned producer Mark Cawthra, who has worked with the North Sea Radio Orchestra, Knifeworld and Arch Garrison, to name but three.

 To assist in creating these new musical worlds Emmett has enlisted the talents of a stellar list of guest players including Matt Stevens from label-mates The Fierce And The Dead, Richard Larcombe (Stars In Battledress), Chloe Herington (Knifeworld/Chrome Hoof) and Beverley Crome (The Cesarians). The use of orchestral instruments such as trumpet, French horn, bassoon and cor anglais is a key factor in the creation of these amazing sounds. “

 The album track list has its tongue firmly in its cheek when it comes to song titles. Take opener Artificial Pterodactyls Over Leytonstone for instance, catchy eh? It starts the album on a disquieting and slightly discordant guitar note, like an army of sonic ants crawling all over your aural receptors. Edgy and slightly offbeat it grabs your attention immediately. It is very evident, even at this early stage, that there is some extremely proficient instrument playing on show here. As an introduction to the album it draws you into its edgy embrace and refuses to let go. Phobos starts with an eerie piano note, very suspenseful, like a modern Hitchcock soundtrack (don’t listen to it when you’re in the shower, for god’s sake!). At this point the other instruments join in to give an ethereal, if slightly eerie, feel to proceedings. Again, like the opening track, it is entrancing in its ability to draw you down into its soul. Toxic Sweetheart is like a little acoustic country ditty with a slight piquant delta blues added into the mix. Soft and delicate but always with a hidden core, I find myself smiling and foot tapping all the way through.

Beyond Astronomy’s Reach is akin to a free form jazz track with inspirations as far as the eye can see. Again very suspenseful and mysterious, it works on your psyche in a most pleasant way and the repeated piano note has a most beguiling aspect to it. The musicians cleverly build the tension throughout the song before releasing you from their embrace to float away in reverie. This format is rinsed and repeated to really build up an almost excruciating feeling of anticipation, some clever, intelligent songwriting on show. The Indolent Spark is a short interlude, almost a bridging track but no less enticing in its intense brevity. That cheerful acoustic guitar sound re-emerges on Where Do You Think You’re Going? A sense of Deep South bluegrass intertwined with a mystery ingredient that is always just out of reach. The gentle guitar picking is delightful and the production is so good you can almost feel the guitarist’s fingers as they pluck the notes. Behind it all there is always a sense of insecurity and perplexity, especially when the violin contributes its melancholy tone and when the clashing, coruscating brass section joins in full flow it takes on a sense of bewildering urgency. Harmonium Phosphate is quite brilliant and could be the soundtrack to some post apocalyptic art house film. It is enthralling and captivating and leaves me rooted to the spot every time I hear it. It is tracks like this that make me wonder why Capital Radio and Radio One (to name but two) still have an audience. Deep and meaningful with layers of comprehension, this is music for the soul and the mind and should be consumed regularly.

 Nocturine is another track notable for its brief existence at just over a minute long. Suspenseful and apprehensive it is actually quite dark in feel. Acoustic slide guitar of the utmost skill makes an appearance on the blues heavy Jupiter Sneezes. A track straight from the Robert Johnson School of earthy, country blues, it breezes along mesmerising and spellbinding and you can’t help but be caught in its gravitational pull. Two Tree Island Drowning is another acoustic guitar masterpiece where the guitars seem to play along and against each other in an off kilter version of the Deliverance banjos. Slightly discordant and harsh but with a smiling playfulness, it runs along at a fair pace leading you on a mischievous journey. Bedevilling in its fervor, Disaster Avenue is another short track that concentrates so much into two minutes. With a style that is hypnotic and jarring it feels like an acoustic acid trip into the unknown.

 Witness Unknown is a busy, restless track and introduces vocals for the one and only time. There is a mad itinerant gypsy minstrel edge to the acoustic guitar and the vocals are low and meaningful. The song has a jolting, jarring aspect to it in places, impatient and preoccupied. This is music that is not for the faint of heart. Whilst not completely terrifying, it does, in places, have you on the edge of your seat, metaphorically peeking from behind your hands and wanting your mummy. The vocals on this track are particularly disturbing with a soulless feel to them, dark and dangerous indeed. Medicine Box is a beautiful track that exists without the darker edge of the rest of the album, still mysterious but with a nod towards the light. Delicate and gossamer like, although the gossamer is strung from steel, it pervades your being with a sense of goodwill but with a hint of warning. The last track on the standard album, Outro is what it says and, at less than one minute, is a short final farewell that seems to be just out of your grasp, as if it is in the back of your mind.

I was lucky to receive the bonus edition of the album that has two additional tracks and I will carry on with the first of those, X Corpus. To me, the song that is most like a cinematic soundtrack, it is very heavy on drama and tension with heavy hints of insecurity. Mixing elements of ‘Psycho’ with ‘The Shining’ I must admit it did actually scare me a little. It grates discordantly and is sharp and chill like an old fashioned horror film where it was more about what you couldn’t see rather than what you could. The second of the bonus tracks, Dustbowl Prizewinner heads back into the cotton fields of Deep South America with its initial banjo before a dominant piano kicks in. The track is a mishmash of musical ideas all thrown together in the hope they will work and, in the majority, they do. I’m not a fan of bonus tracks added to the end of an album generally but, especially in the case of the first one, they can add to the original album.

If we take those additional tracks out and just concentrate on the standard release, what have we got? I must admit that this is an album that really lends itself to you being in a receptive mood to listen to it, as background music it just wouldn’t work, being complex and deep as it is. Sit yourself down in your favourite chair with the lights down and a good pair of headphones on, however, and you will be in for a treat with nuances and new ideas firing at you every time you press play for one more listen.  ‘Bloody Marvels’?,  it’s bloody marvellous!!

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