At the beginning of last year I came across an album that came out of nowhere. I remember it clearly because it was just after Bowie died and wrote in the review for it:
It is…the album on my list that I felt was most in the spirit of Bowie at his best (which for me is the albums ‘Low’ and ‘Heroes’), where he could convey something that is in the same package beautiful, challenging, intuitive and emotional. This is an album that takes risks and asks a great deal of the listener, but in return delivers something that is very rewarding.
I had listened to ‘Blezard’ last week and been thoroughly moved by it, but hearing it again today, probably with a heightened sense for such things, has underpinned for me how elegiac it is. This is an album with which you can really sit back (or even sit up) and meditate on the nature of life and its vagaries; it is an album through which you can lose yourself…and find yourself.
Now I’ll admit that there are occasions when I get completely carried away with listening to albums and can tend to hyperbolise things. This, however, was not the case with ‘Blezard’; which has really stood the test of time (if a year and a bit can be said to be any time at all). Shortly after this review, moreover, I was lucky enough to see the band play live and realised that they were already moving on. The inclusion of Mark Greenwood, whose dense musings appear on one of the tracks on ‘Blezard’, as a full member of Cavalier Song and clearly now an integral part of their live performance, further stretched the band and, by association, the listener. Seeing them live is an intense experience that challenges the mind and senses. This has been carried over into Cavalier Song’s second album ‘A Deep Well’ which melds musical soundscapes and spoken word together in a compelling way that totally clicked with me on the second listen through.
But before I launch into the hyperbole I want to get something out of the way first. In listening to this album it would be easy to concentrate on Greenwood’s voice and think…’well he sounds just like Mark E Smith so let’s talk about The Fall’. Now it may well be that the band are influenced by The Fall, but really there’s a lot more going on here. So while acknowledging that fact (and, confession time, I’m not really a Fall fan) I feel that by just concentrating on that would do Cavalier Song an injustice. So yeah it sounds a bit like The Fall, but there are whole other levels being explored here.
This is immediately apparent with album opener ‘Adams Apple’. Beginning with the sort of minimalist elegiac soundscape of ‘Blezard’ the band seem to want to show the transition they are making into something else. For the first minute or so it’s very much ‘as you were’ before exploding into something else completely with a wall of sound that hits you like a sonic tsunami… From there the track fires itself at you at 1000 miles an hour with Greenwood’s vocal hitting the driving drums and screaming guitars just right. Surely as good a start to an album as you’ll hear all year.
From then the album settles down somewhat with ‘Insect Fire Dances’ a track that, for me, shows how Cavalier Song have developed in the last year or so. Yes there are the lyrics which are, as is the case throughout the album, a real mix of coherence and surreality… the real and the hyperreal… cut and paste and mise-en-scène; but musically there is also a real perceived development here. There is still an element of risk taking here, arguably more difficult with a second album, and also a greater maturity and confidence that I’m sure only comes with time. As with many of the tracks here there are a number of twists and turns within it, usually towards the left. Most of all, though, there is a sort of sonic gestalt happening with the words and music adding up to more of the sum of their parts in an almost numinal manner.
This is continued with ‘Shields’ which, and I’m struggling to describe this, again just works. The problem I’m having here is trying to explain just how it works. The words are mesmerising… the music is mesmerising… together the fit, they just fit. ‘Shields’ is more acoustic, more bucolic in tone as, to start with, are the lyrics. But there is something more base going on here. Although never spoken it feels like the past… but it works in the present too. In someways this album is timeless… there is nothing which really links it to the present, yet it feels utterly contemporary too. In addition, also like much of this album there is a great deal of humanity at the very core of this track. Either way I’m finding it to be remarkable.
‘Heathen’ immediately feels darker, more aggressive. Heavier and more abstract, this track imposes itself on you far more. You feel that it is actively going for you. It’s a cacophony of noise and confusion… sturm und drang… the edge of intelligibility. There is a deviance to this track, a breaking of taboo perhaps, that pulls you in like a black hole into something bleak and unknown… a real contrast with the numbers either side of it, but for very different reasons.
Then there’s ‘Eborakon part 1’. Bloody hell this one has me in tears when I listened to it, this is not something that happens very often. Whether it’s the background hum or the studied delivery of the spoken word, there’s something eerie and fearful here., a sense of loss which cannot be recovered. Despite it’s relative simplicity there’s a real depth to ‘Eborakon part 1’ which, again, is hard to explain… it hits you straight in the soul.
After that ‘St Christopher’ somehow raises the mood with a lighter, at times almost dance, beat. There are elements of jazz here too in a repeating motif, especially through the prominent bass line, which holds the track together. An instrumental it provides a moment of hiatus from the spoken word which allows for a moment of reflection before embarking into the final track ‘Eborakon part 2’; the last three tracks have the feel of a suite of music in three movements.
‘Eborakon part 2’ begins as if a treatise on nature mysticism but quickly switches to something more supernatural as the track descends into a darkness and, as it picks up in tempo, becoming as intense as any part of the album. As the vocals come in half way through you’re under no illusion that this last few minutes are going to be one hell of a ride. Again it’s difficult to describe exactly what’s going on here because, as listener, you get pulled in all sorts of directions by both the music and the words… sometimes they coalesce, sometimes the diverge… and then it’s gone, ending as if the story continues according to the mind of the perceiver (I was strangely reminded of the end of ‘The Sopranos’ at this point… life goes on, you decide what happens next).
To call this a hugely powerful album is something of an understatement. It is a set redolent with musical and verbal symbolism, yet it is somehow a symbolism that is malleable… solid enough to demand to be listened to, yet flexible enough to leave it open to interpretation. It is an album that I expect to never listen to in the same way twice, and it is an album that you really need to hear yourself to appreciate its intensity and ambition. For me Cavalier Song have really stepped up with ‘A Deep Well’, and after ‘Blezard’ that is quite a feat.
‘A Deep Well’ is released by God Unknown Records on 22/09/17, and is available for pre-order now here.
While you’re there check out the other offerings from God Unknown because there are some amazing sounds there… especially the first two volumes of ‘singles clubs’, which are well worth downloading.