I often wonder if it is me who is wrong when I bemoan the fact that the vast majority of mainstream and chart music is benign drivel that has no depth or meaning. To me, it is mainly there to serve the purposes of the record companies and artist management and their lifelong pursuit of the mighty dollar. Yet, can so many people be wrong? It sells in vast quantities and is lining someone’s pocket somewhere after all.
So, could it be my taste that is wrong, do I have an inherent but totally unfounded dislike of this popcorn music? Well, every now and again a new release comes along that tells me a resounding ‘no’ and restores my faith in my own musical standards and beliefs. It tells me that the music I listen to and support is at the grass roots level of what is right and good. Expressive and unique and not necessarily immediately pleasing to everybody’s ears, it is intelligent and worthy of further investigation.
It is either the independent artist or smaller, niche labels that tend to release the sort of music that gets the hairs on the back of my neck rising and lending me a preternatural smile and it is no different on this occasion.
The highly respected and eclectic London based music label Bad Elephant Music always deliver in spades when it comes to music that makes you think and music that delivers more upon every listen. Check back through the Lady Obscure archives to find my previous reviews on the excellent artists that this label represents.
On this occasion it is the Manchester based TrojanHorse who have joined the merry band of artists on the BEM roster with their second full length release. ‘World Turned Upside-Down’ which follows their first, self-titled album.
The very hirsute band members are brothers Nicholas Wyatt Duke (vocals, guitar, enraged frontman), Lawrence Salvador Duke (vocals, bass, energetic sidekick) and Eden Ellis Duke (vocals, keys, expressive sidekick), Richard Crawford (mad drummer) and Danny the Red (everything else).
The promo material goes on to quote:
“Devised, written and recorded over a period of three years from late 2010 to early 2014, it was conceived on a nourishing diet of Robert Wyatt ‘Rock Bottom’, Soft Machine ‘Volume 2’, a new found appreciation of dub reggae, the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, Elliott Smith, Earth Wind & Fire ‘I Am’, Parenthood, Tears For Fears ‘Songs From The Big Chair’, Cardiacs, and social injustice.
It was finally ‘finessed’ with a sprinkling of XTC’s ‘Black Sea’, sporadic touring with exceptional friends, enlivened by the seminal wood carving image for the cover of the 1646 revolutionary pamphlet ‘World Turned Upside Down’ by T.J., and lives lived under the foul austerity policies of an unwanted government.”
I saw the guys play at this year’s Resonance Rock Festival and they literally blew the audience away with their incendiary stage show, could that dynamism and energy be transferred onto their recorded material? I think you already know the answer…….
Album opener Jurapsyche Park starts the proceedings in an effusive manner with a cool riff and intelligent drum beat before everything goes all bossa nova and a funky Latinesque beat kicks in to join the musical fun. These two musical disparates counter each other as the rhythmic gumbo takes hold. Catchy yet slightly offbeat there is a free spirit running through the whole mix, throw in a mental guitar courtesy of Kavus Torabi and an epic keyboard explosion and we are off the mark with stunning bang. Sesame starts with a mysterious bass line and guitar note that has a 70’s suspenseful thrill to it. As the tempo rises and the drums and strange vocals join the fray I almost feel like I’ve stumbled on the set of an acid filled flower power film and the band are providing the suitably way out score. The funkily cool riff and keyboard note that follow do nothing to dispel the montage in my mind. This track is so laid back it is almost horizontal and has a feeling of utter confidence and surety in its ability to transport the listener to a better place. Interlude I is a slightly frenetic 40 seconds that leaves you dishevelled and wondering what actually just happened, call it a musical amuse bouche if you like.
Onto Scuttle and an introduction that is almost dark and sinister before the song rockets off in a slight distorted and manic fashion, like life has been fast forwarded to three times the speed. Clever and articulate yet able to make you feel disconcertingly a long way from home, it is a bright and ingenious composition. I cannot get away from the fact that it does make my skin crawl in a curiously gratifying manner, like a forbidden and very scary pleasure. Don’t ask me why but I am left with the vision of a killer clown burned onto my retina as the song fades from my consciousness. See Me at the Crow Bridge is a short but entirely charming calming of the waters, one minute of serenity in an oasis of cheery lunacy and allows you to get your breath back, if only exceedingly temporary. Centrelude seems just out of reach, almost like listening to music under water and then we are delivered unto the title track World Turned Upside Down which begins in a slightly whimsical fashion, almost folk like in the acoustic guitar and gentle percussion. The slightly whiny yet earnest vocals work very well and the whole track takes on some sort of jazz fusion veneer. A quite pleasing and upbeat track that shows the band have a lighter side to them, if slightly bittersweet. The string section in the song is a work of genius and adds another layer of intensiveness to the experience. As I have said already, music like this rewards you for digging deeper and peeling back the layers to discover every nuance and hidden pleasure therein and this track showcases that hugely.
Onto the longest song on the album and the band’s slightly off kilter, demonic edged homage to the so called ‘Prog epic’. Hypocrite’s Hymn is twelve minutes of distorted, anamorphic inventiveness that, the longer you listen to it, makes more and more sense. It is not the formless ball of noise that it may appear on first listen but, in fact, is an imaginative journey though some of life’s stranger musical episodes. Sit down in the comfort of your own home with a pair of premium headphones on and just listen, preferably after a few strong drinks, and it will begin to meld and focus into something quite unique. It seeps into your psyche gradually, like an insidious interloper, before taking over your life and the psychedelic episode towards the end just leaves you wide eyed and afraid, very afraid. Death and the Mad Queen is, perhaps, the most mainstream of the tracks on the album and has a feel of Oasis about it, well, an intelligent Oasis anyway with the laconic vocals and laid back acoustic guitar. Add in Chloe Herrington’s bassoon and a superb keyboard sound straight from the prog epics of the 70’s and you have an incredibly cool song that drips late summer sunshine and could (and should) possibly be a single release. Behemoth begins with a riff and guitar note that has an incredible depth, as if it is coming from the bowels of the earth. The track then segues into a neat, relaxed guitar note that almost feels like it is sighing with a chilled release before that ‘wall of sound’ riff kicks in again. Another track that calls to you and you listen, demanding one hundred percent attention. This track is full of gravitas and soul and a maturity that is deliberately lacking elsewhere.
For those familiar with the band Paper Bells will be the most recognisable track, being the first single release from the album. Perhaps the most radio friendly song on the album (if you like your radio dark, dangerous and independent) it begins slow, deliberate and melancholy. The tempo barely rises but the power is turned up to 10 with a thumping, melodic riff that you feel deep in your bowels. The vocals are precise and deliberate and the drum beat and bass note add a deep, soulful quality to the song. The distorted solo is tortured genius and it all adds up to a quietly impressive slice of angst. The album tails off with the final two tracks being the short but meaningful Outerlude, oppressive and menacing and the jangling, chaotic final minute and three quarters of Fire Fire that closes the album with that maniacal, slightly insane feel that introduced it. Crazed and breathless it leaves you shaking your head in a state of bewilderment at what you have just been exposed to.
Definitely not for the faint hearted, this ‘bunch of sweary socialists from Salford who make loud music’ (sic) go for the jugular with everything they have. You may not like it and, if you don’t, fair play but it’s undeniably your loss. To me, this is everything that is good about independent music today, a melting pot of stylistic influences melded into something unique and fantastic. Dark and without any form of musical restraint it should be consumed in one sitting and then, if you’re lucky, you will understand the genius at work.