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And so another Mercury Prize comes and goes with an extremely worthy winner in P.J Harvey, one of England’s truly inspirational and individual female musical artists. Will any of this month’s albums provide a contender for next year’s Mercury’s?

Wolfcrusher – Virgin Tapestry

There’s an old adage related to our capitol, you’re never more than three feet away from a rat in London. That analogy transferred North, altered to a more musical propensity, suggests whilst in Manchester, you’re never more than three feet away from an ex member of The Fall. More recently, the phrase could be further amended, while in Manchester, you’re never more than three feet away from an incredibly talented musician from a local metal band.  The North West music mecca, literally spawning top quality, extreme music outfits at a leporidae rate which could find the indie kids reaching for a vial of myxomatosis virus, desperate to cull the burgeoning scene.  Fortunately, this beast is far too virile to succumb to an attack from further down the sonic food chain. 

The latest addition, to an ever expanding list of outstanding Manchester metal outfits is Wolfcrusher, recently releasing their debut album “Virgin Tapestry.” A new project devised by the metallic mind of Dan Mucs (Not Above Evil, Dirty Habit and Ten Foot Wizard,) enveloping a myriad of not only metal, but also rock influences.  The Death aspects are apparent immediately through opening track “Reborn” as Gary Harkin’s trachea trashing growl predominates, the chorus however highlighting a more melodic approach is utilised, Harkin reverting to a clean vocal soar.  It’s the constant ebbs and flows through “Virgin Tapestry” both vocally and musically which formulates such an enthralling piece of work. During “Skeletonizer,” the volume and intensity fades to a passage evoking shades of Pearl Jam, before normal service resumes. “No Chance” is a pure piece of classic rock, with a metal injection. The guitar intro could be Purple or Zeppelin, before Harkin’s rasping bluesy voice interjects leading to gargantuan chorus, combine with a spine tingling solo, a rock classic in the making. The only criticism to be levelled at “Virgin Tapestry,” at seven tracks, the listener is left hanging, awaiting more, although with Dan Mucs itinerary, perhaps we should be grateful even this much material has appeared under the Wolfcrusher

WATERS – Out in the Light – Released September 19th on City Slang

Port O’Brien founder member and front man Van Pierszalowski follows a completely dissimilar path to his more folk based previous outings. “Out  in the Light,” as the title suggests, the sound of a man freeing himself both musically and lyrically from perceived shackles. The intention immediately apparent with two tracks which make up one of the finest openings to an album for many years, “For the One” a magnificent, raw, ragged noise emanates as guitars, hiss, fizz and caterwaul backed by on occasions, manically beaten drums. Album highlight “Holy Break of Day” finds Pierszalowski extolling the virtues of release from a relationship. An intro regaling the distorted sound of Crazy Horse, Van’s plaintive vocal proclaiming “I can’t believe the soul is so free, dream the fucker right of me, I can’t believe I took it for granted.”  As if to further enhance the point, the drop after the second chorus, a segment of true liberation, layered guitars wail and scream at tangents before the final refrain and feedback induced ending.  “Back to You,” follows a similar pattern, impressive riffmongery, heavyweight rhythms and Sonic Youthesque howling conclusion.

An intensely personal album, Pierszalowski’s yearning, heartbreaking vocals deliver lines which embed themselves in your heart, his pain shared. From “If I Run,” “Was I wasting all my time on my friends, why would I fight if there’s no one to defend.”  In and amongst the superlative cacophony however, stripped down acoustic compositions flank perfectly, “Ones You Had Before” and “Mickey Mantle” constructed more tenderly, although maintaining the fervent and passionate lyrical content.

“Out in the Light” is a triumph of minimal production, a band throwing all they can muster into a collection of ten songs, sounding within the up tempo numbers, completely loose and frayed, whilst maintaining complete and utterly cohesiveness. I can only imagine how brilliantly these songs will transfer to the live stage, as unfortunately WATERS U.K dates are, disappointingly, only in London. 

The Waterboys – An Appointment with Mr Yeats

Back in the 80’s, The Waterboys recorded one of my favourite collections of the period, “This is the Sea,” an album which could have easily transposed to stadiums in the way of a U2 or Simple Minds, just with better songs. “This is the Sea” heralded hit single and their most instantly recognisable song, “The Whole of the Moon.” The follow up, “Fisherman’s Blues,” while patchy, still retained some wonderful moments, as folk and country influences became apparent, particularly within the title track.  At this point, in 1988, Scott’s affectation to Irish poet, W.B Yeats surfaced, providing musical accompaniment to Yeat’s classic words in “The Stolen Child” from the poem of the same name.  On the “Dream Harder” album, five years later, a further poem by Yeats, “Love and Death” received the same treatment. Scott continued to mine this lyrical seam, performing more material during the Yeat’s International Festival in 1991, although never releasing anything further until now, “An Appointment with Mr Yeats” appearing, a complete album utilising poems from 14 years of Yeat’s career, which against all my initial reservations works rather well.

Scott’s vocals are clear and distinct, ensuring the words can be fully appreciated.  While some slight amendments and additions have been required to ensure the songs flow, Yeat’s meanings and inflections remain completely intact.  The musical arrangements fit perfectly with the lyrical themes, “Song of the Wandering Aengus” and “Sweet Dancer” tender and soulful, whilst the darker ambience of “A Full Moon in March” proclaiming “I sing a song of Jack and Jill, Jill had murdered Jack” receives the big rock, riffs and swirling keyboards treatment. “The Lake Isle of Innisfree”, shuffling and bluesy, Scott including Bolan style vocal yelps to enhance his sensuous delivery.  

In a recent interview, Mike Scott admitted The Waterboys, has the distinction of retaining more members than The Fall within it’s ranks over the years, although one name, Steve Wickham, has remained constant for a long period alongside Scott himself. Wickham on fiddle has been instrumental in developing the more folky, Irish sound the band has developed.  Wickham is integral to “An Appointment with Mr Yeats” providing an outlet normally filled by a lead guitarist. The second solo played in “Mad as the Mist and Snow,” an absolute tour de force, bow searing and snaking across the strings, Wickham is to the fiddle, what Page, Hendrix or Frusciante are to the guitar.

“An Appointment with Mr Yeats” could easily have turned into a pretentious, self indulgent musical morass, it’s to Mike Scott’s credit it proves exactly the opposite.

Girls – Father, Son and Holy Ghost

The second full album from San Francisco’s, Girls, exhibits a real mixture of character and passion.  Perfectly acceptable jangly, melodic indie derived pop constitutes the majority, although tracks such as the soulful “Love Like a River” and “How Can I Say I Love You” are a little too familiar,  Honey Bunny,” and ”Alex” more original and accessible. All becomes far more interesting when Christopher Owens ups the intensity and length, effortlessly transcending into a union of Brand New and Pink Floyd with “Vomit” a six and a half minute epic of compelling proportions. Eddying keyboards predominate after a compassionate picked intro, the track picks up pace as distorted, psychedelic guitars infiltrate prior to an ending of Dark Side of the Moon proportions, not dissimilar to Claire Torry and Richard Wrights performance on “The Great Gig in the Sky.”

As a whole nonetheless, “Father, Son and Holy Ghost is agreeable without being completely satisfying, too much tending to drift slowly by relatively unnoticed.

Pajama Club – Pajama Club

It’s a bit of a bugger becoming older, the kids have grown up, away, playing in their own bands, finding it’s just you and the wife at home, time on your hands….. what to do?  If you’re Neil and Sharon Finn….easy…. play around with some unfamiliar instruments, Neil on drums, Sharon on bass, jam a few tunes after the evening meal and record to a hard drive. While on tour with Crowded House, add a few more parts in hotels, once back home bring in a mate, Sean Donnelly, and hey presto, suddenly you have an albums worth of rhythmical deeply dark pop.

I enjoyed the early work of Crowded House, although lost interest in later years as the material began to sound a little bland for my taste, Pajama Club proves a welcome return to form. The Finns certainly know their way around a melody and once “Tell Me What You Want” lodges itself in the brain, becomes exceptionally difficult to extricate, buzzing around for days, the Beatles influenced “Diamonds in Her Eyes” a similar entity. Whilst the upfront catchy tunes and choruses form a major part of Pajama Club’s debut album, the eleven tracks become far more interesting and intriguing due to the atmospheric soundscapes at the back of the mix. “From a Friend to a Friend” again infectious as hell, a deeply rooted earworm, although the distorted, yowling guitar creates a thoroughly sinister backdrop.

“Pajama Club” while ostensibly minimalist, even initially sounding simplistic becomes far deeper and penetrating with each listen, an album which may just permeate your musical ether far longer than originally anticipated.

The Karma HeartThrow Your Light

If the West of England, particularly the North has shown an upsurge in metal, the East of the country has seen an influx of releases from melodic rocks bands appearing over recent months. The Karma Heart from Newcastle suggests a harder edged Paramore describes their sound, fortunately they prove much more palatable.

“Throw Your Light,” maintains a real swagger and strut, especially around the guitar with tracks such as “Gravitate” where the lead interplays with solid rhythms, working especially well. Chunky riffs and unyielding bass and drums abound throughout and whilst no new or particularly innovative tricks are apparent, The Karma Heart show rock is still fit as the proverbial Butchers and there’s still plenty of life in the old dog yet.

So, have this months albums thrown up a potential Mercury winner for 2012.  Three are immediately discounted due to the international aspect, leaving.....

The Karma Heart, the rank outsiders of the trio, while a good debut, a touch too traditional. Wolfcrusher........ I'd love a metal act to take the coveted title and surely at some stage the panel will recognise some of the most progressive and awe inspiring music is being produced from this area of music. Could that transpire next year? Let's hope so, "Virgin Tapestry" sits in a long line of fantastic albums of the genre produced by U.K bands this year.

Realistically however, still unlikely, therefore the favourite from this half dozen September releases is The Waterboys. Stranger things have happened at sea, a well respected exponent, first album for a number of years, adding musical arrangements to the words of a poet........ classic Mercury fodder if you ask me. 

Just remember where you heard it first ;)

 Reviews and views by Andy Barnes

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