Saturday, 10 January 2015
Album Review - Sound of Yell - Brocken Spectre
It is rare for me, upon reviewing an album, to happen upon something that suddenly realigns everything into making sense; something that corrals the strands of thought that a record conjures into a single unified theme that re-frames the experience. But after several listens of the densely populated Brocken Spectre by Sound of Yell, aka Stevie Jones (alumni of El Hombre Trajaedo), I started to do some light reading of the PR notes. It was during this research that I discovered that the title is a term for the halo crested shadow cast by hill climbers on clouds when lit by the sun (as a keen munro-bagger something I've seen a lot of) and it seems to be the perfect title for the album.
What you'll find here on Brocken Spectre, released via Chemikal Underground, is a impressive selection of instrumentation and contributing artists crafting songs dense with ideas and plot that it will take several listens to take apart. Jazz and folk influences are everywhere, with loose feeling structures and an ebb and flow not unlike the grandest post rock, the album is entire stripped back to the bare bones, and is fiercely warm for it. You can here the shuffling along the fretboard and the shifting of stance on a drum kit. This adds to the experience of listening to the record either through headphones or through your speaker system.
There is a story within each track too told via wonderful interplay between guitar, drums, piano, strings ripped to the edges of their strength, and breathy vocals low in the mix, like on Iguacu, with its deep rolling rattle free snare and woodwind floating along.
Jones, like his ex-band mate RM Hubbert, has roped in some impressive guest musicians for the recording of Brocken Spectre. The most enchanting being the vocals that appear on the only vocal lead track Caiman sung by Kim Moore, while Stevie Jackson (Belle and Sebastian) pops up on this track too playing harmonica. Jones isn't crafting a song per se but instead crafting a story with music. On the previously cited Iguaca for example across the eight minutes the song shifts and stumbles in unpredictable fashion with each movement adding to the plot as the disparate parts push against each other. It is a centerpiece of the record too, as it slowly fades out like embers on a campfire.
The title track is probably my personal favorite on the album however, reminding me on one hand of John McCusker's wonderful Under One Sky project for its marriage of different folk styles with contemporary structures, but also of a playful jaunt towards the end.
It is probably worth mentioning that this isn't an easy album and one that won't come immediately. Unlike Hubby's success, and Stevie Jones's contribution towards the stunning Aidan Moffat and Bill Well's album Everything's Getting Older, Brocken Spectre is an album that burrows away its melodies in powerful structured unpredictability and rewards its listener. It feels like a secret club - the fretwork is magical; the songs never repeat their style; the production feels worn in not worn out. If you listen, you get it, and welcome to the club.
The title of the album is worth returning to - that halo you see on the hill, a brocken spectre - is a one off. You can try to arrange it to happen but it is a moment in time and one that is unique. This album is full of those moments and rewards with each unraveling listen.
- Mark Shields
Sound of Yell - Brocken Spectre is out now via Chemikal Undergound and can be purchased here.