Sunday, 3 October 2010

All We Grow - Sean Carey / Steeple - Wolf People

This article originally appeared on the peerless (yet now sadly defunct) It's owners are now Suburban Tarts, who should be visited post-haste...

All We Grow released 04/10/10, through Jagjaguwar

Steeple released 11/10/10, through Jagjaguwar

Having thought long and hard about whether to write two reviews for this here website, I eventually decided that one double-header would better do the job of singing the praises of not only two very different but equally wonderful albums, but also of the record company that had the decency to release them into the wild.

Jagjaguwar Records are probably not yet a household name, unless you live in one of those households in Hoxton with art on the walls made out of your friend’s blood. After the success of debut albums from Ladyhawk and Bon Iver, the label is probably best known in recent months for releasing Black Mountain’s Wilderness Heart, a very excellent record if you haven’t heard it yet. But a quick trawl of the website reveals that the future for this label is likely to be bright, and the two albums reviewed here look like a pretty good clutch to be getting along with.

Firstly, the album All We Grow by Sean Carey. Yes, him what hits the skins in Bon Iver. This is Sean’s debut solo recording outside the band, and it’s very much what you’d expect to hear from one quarter of America’s alt-folk saviours. It’s relentlessly melodic throughout, with a stripped bare sound that’s almost spooky in its sparsity. It’s clearly a well-rehearsed piece, which is refreshing for a genre that prides itself on naturalness, often to a fault. Not for Carey is the finger-in-the-ear-and-hope-for-the-best approach. Goodness no. Here, the melody lines are precisely trimmed and the occasional whiff of strings that drift in and out like clouds crossing a particularly tuneful sun, are beautifully timed and laid out. It’s an intimate, stripped back sound that demands close attention rather than casual listening.

My personal highlights include the stunningly beautiful and ethereal Rothko Fields, and the immaculate piano riffing on We Fell, where Carey demonstrates the full range of the talents of the musicians he has assembled as support. The sheer force of melody is occasionally preposterous, but this has never been a problem for yours truly, and nor should it be for you. This record does for melody what Fleet Foxes did so dramatically for harmony: reminding us that even slight over-use is no bad thing if you get it right.

Critics would have a point to say that this record sounds a lot like… well… something by Bon Iver.This would not be unfair to say, but would beg the age-old ultimatum: if it ain’t broke, why fix it?

Also on offer from the 11th is the debut-album-proper Steeple, from Wolf People. This is quite a different animal from the melodic lilting of the above. From the doom-laden opening chord, it is clear that this is not album that is going to let you ignore it. It is, in summary, not the sound that immediately springs to mind when one thinks of North Yorkshire, where the band originated. Nor is it particularly reminiscent of Wales, where the band followed in the footsteps of luminaries and clear influences Led Zeppelin and headed off into the middle of nowhere to cut this disc. This, my people, is a record to get excited about.

It is at points painfully cool – the sort of band that make you feel like you’re on drugs, even when you’re not. The first single, Tiny Circle (available to download for free here), is a stoner masterpiece that probably wouldn’t feel altogether out of place on a Cream LP or mixed in with the early work of The Yardbirds. Praise this high does not come easy to me, but this record is worth that praise. The best thing about this record is that it sounds like a band who are confident enough to, just occasionally, rock the fuck out. At one point I genuinely felt the hairs on the back of my neck rise as the lyrics “big black revolver tells me which way to turn” oozed out of my speakers.

The record oozes confidence and the musicians involved are not afraid to push the envelope. Jagjaguwar have, in this author’s opinion, signed themselves something of a gem in this band, and they’ve been good enough to share it with the rest of us. Take note people, ‘tis the season of the Wolf.

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