Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Album Review - Bastard Mountain - Farewell, Bastard Mountain

Bastard Mountain is a collection of musicians brought together by Song, By Toad Records.  The release stays within Song, By Toad’s close knit community, most of the contributors have released on the label, and the releases usually feature appearances from, or production duties from label-mates.  Egos are left at the door, ensuring this is a collaborative album and not a super-group, and it pays.

All but two of the songs are original, Pissing on Bonfires, from Meursault’s debut, is reinvigorated for the second time this year, and Something On Your Mind was written by Dino Valenti.  For those who are familiar with collaborators’ work, a huge joy comes from recognising who wrote what.  Rob St John’s slow ballads with dronal tendencies are prominent on Meadow GhostDrone Armatrading  has a similar feel to Broken RecordsWard 3,  Neil Pennycook brings his wide dynamics to The Mill and Sparrow And The Workshop's Jill O'Sullivan's Americana-tinged individual sense of melody shines through Old Habits.  For those not familiar with each member’s previous work, the album sits perfectly as a cohesive whole, particularly with the segues on the vinyl edition, and is a testament to the artists’ like-minded and open approach.

Although Reuben Taylor and Pete Harvey are not credited with any particular song, they share the task of filling out the gaps and pulling the individuals together.  Harvey and Rory Sutherland’s string arrangements shine through becoming the backbone and, at times, the focus and emotive pull of the album.  The arrangements are simple and slow, but moments like the trills leading up to the chorus during The Mill  and the juxtaposition of scratchy cello in the verses of Old Habits,  to the confidently played, celtic-influenced counter melody in the chorus are amongst the album’s most beautiful.

The album is mildly one directional; the pace never picks up much from the start, and the songs are bleak.  However, the different writing and singing combinations for each song brings out differences in ways other than tempo and mood.  Moments of positivity, as in New Boy,  and Harvey’s rich string arrangements make this album feel like a rounded listen, even if it doesn’t seem so on paper.

Matthew Young at Song, By Toad is due as much credit as anyone else for masterminding the album, and bringing together six musicians who work so well together.  The album is imprinted as the first of the 'Magpie Series'.  Whether this is throwback gesture, much like the covers of the Song, By Toad Split 12" series, or the start of a new series of collaborations is unclear, but it is certainly an exciting prospect.  Cold Seeds, the first collaborative album on the label, featuring Neil Pennycook, King Creosote and Animal Magic Tricks, hds moments of brilliance, it suffered from feeling almost too lo-fi in content as well as production. Conversely Farewell Bastard Mountain  is superbly composed, stunningly arranged and nothing short of a delight to listen to.  This is the label’s strongest release, and one that epitomises Song, By Toad’s ethics.

- Ashley Leiper

Bastard Mountain - Farewell, Bastard Moutain  is out now via Song, By Toad Records and is available in all good record shops and online music retailers.  You can purchase the album here.

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