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My musical ramblings – gig and album reviews, music news and views

Guillemots: Walk The River – album review

Guilleamots - Walk The River

The Guillemots have always possessed an endearing honesty without plunging into lifeless balladry. It’s this that becomes the quartet’s runaway strength on Walk The River – an album whose subject matter majors on lost love.

Fyfe Dangerfield is an eccentric character hailing from the unlikely town of Bromsgrove, in Worcestershire, but he has the kind of pure voice that exudes heart. After a brief foray into the solo world, he, MC Lord Magrão, Aristazabal Hawkes and Greig Stewart have reunited to make the band’s third album since Guillemots’ inception in 2004.

Gone are the swathes of audible eccentricities you might have found on Through The Windowpane, or Red. This time, muted opener, Walk The River’s sad tale is gently back-dropped against xylophones and harpsichords, without any hint of twee that might’ve existed in the band’s past life. Tiger has flashes of radio wave sound effects and whirring Bontempi, while Inside doesn’t make its atmospheric singing guitars and toybox chimes the centre. Nevertheless it’s unmistakeably Guillemots.

The overriding melancholy of the album journeys throughout the tracks in many guises. I Don’t Feel Amazing Now has a touch of cracking in Dangerfield’s voice, while Dancing In the Devil’s Shoes declares, “And if these days would never end, if laughter was my very oldest friend, not a growing trend, that what I have I always tend to lose”. Many of the songs’ epic sadness in fact exude joy in all but their lyrics. Ice Room’s whirlwind riffs and percussion have more than a hint of Smiths or early Manic Street Preachers – minus the political, while a simple Lennon-esque War Is Over beat on I Must Be A Lover, boasts a rousing gospel chorus of “Let it go”.

There are shades of Midlake’s Roscoe on Vermillion, but it’s a shame that some mid-track jamming takes it so far away from its original method statement. Odd synth spirals on Slow Train also mix like chalk and cheese, or salt in a mug of coffee. And Yesterday Is Dead’s psychedelic, Primal Scream call to arms works, until its impetus fails to maintain the interest for the full eight minutes it is awarded.

However, The Basket sticks its neck out above the din – its falsetto backing vocals and refreshingly positive, bowled over, love-drunk lyrics declaring, “You knock me over”.

Sometimes, Guillemots miss the uninhibited sound of Through The Windowpane or Red – elements like those left of field trumpets on Trains To Brazil, or the sparse, tear jerking boldness of debut album opener, Little Bear.  But these more peculiar character associations are clearly things the band wants to get away from now, to give them wider appeal.

This might, in the end, be the thing that splits opinions down the middle as to whether they’ve kept the qualities made them so special in the first place. But the musicianship is still very much there in Walk The River. It’s a beautiful record that is still a Guillemots record in its essence; full of songs that speak of a desperately sad subject matter but still manage to capture exhilaration in their very bones.

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