Friday, 6 March 2015

Album Review - Supermoon - Oh, Supermoon

By calling the first track of this collection of songs Death to Meursault, we are left in no doubt that Neil Pennycook’s new project Supermoon looks to put to bed that wonderful collective which gave us three albums – Pissing On Bonfires/Kissing With Tongues, All Creatures Will Make Merry and Something for the Weakened – over a 6 year period and a SXSW fundraising sampler The Organ Grinder’s Monkey.  At 21:20 long and comprising of only seven tracks, Oh, Supermoon fits neither the EP nor LP category comfortably, and offers itself as more of a taster of things to come from Neil with some distinctly demo feeling tracks.

Meursault purists will be pleased to know that this selection of songs makes no great departure from the pattern which has been so carefully woven over the years, relying as heavily as ever on Neil’s distinctive despairing and cursing vocals over threads of rich melody and stark accompaniment.

In Death to Meursault’s opening track, we hear an acoustic guitar phrase repeating, revolving and overlaid with Neil’s crying vocals, and then, finding a melody which suits the change in mood, we have a chorus of sorts so typical of his work and so desperate in delivery.  The song opens and the chords dance, and we are at the point of maximum impact.  “…and everything could be so easy,” sings Neil, comfortable in familiar surroundings.

In Klopfgeist, we have as near to a ballad as we can reasonably expect.  Percussive offbeats introduce a crisp piano detail which allows the soft vocals to guide us and soften the tone of the album.  A beautifully crafted song which ebbs and flows and stutters and starts in a truly melodic and off-centre manner.  All the while, the simple melody sounds a mantra for all bereft and abandoned lounge singers out there.

Moving gently on to New Boy a shift in tempo is signalled by a chopping, driving low guitar chord strum, and over finger-picking guitar and piano arpeggios, the telephonic vocal ushers us to sit up and take note with, “Every grain of the sands of time…”  The repetitive and compelling tune repeats, fades and resolves in a fashion we have become used to with Meursault and indeed of Bon Iver too.  Sad hearts indeed deliver sublime songs, this is one such song.

And then to Ode to Gremlin, a track which demands the clearing of the throat before the thump and chime of piano chords set the pace for a hypnotic and atmospheric backdrop of dissonance as the tale is told.  And, like so much of the album, the secret in the tale is in the listening, and in the audibility of and the separation of consonants and vowels.

A distinctively country guitar feel arrives with Oh, Supermoon.  However, the mantra-like lyrics and jarring offset sharps maintain the interest and mystery of a demo which appears, on the face of it, to be in embryonic stage, but is complete in its lack of resolution.

In Supermoon Vs. Black Friday, we have a tale of much more clarity and a balance which sits much higher in the mix than previous tracks.  A thrashing of chorus guitar chords demands a screamed delivery of, “I’m facing south and I’m coming for you”.  A song of self-evaluation, angry proclamation and a determination for rebirth and pained determination.  Just what Neil is a master of, you may say.

A more melancholy guitar motif introduces the final track, A Gentleman’s Guide, and a gentler approach in the vocals, reminiscent of Randolph’s Leap at their most sincere, shows Neil at his most playful.  A folk song in essence, with nods to both Dylan and Jansch along the way.  A fitting and sympathetic finale to the collection.

There is an incompleteness to this collection of songs and a vagueness in message which leaves space for the listener to mould each of the songs to fit his or her own personal bearing and/or want.  As such, it offers something of greater value than any album complete and is confident in its construct.  Another wonderful and enduring collection of songs from one of Scotland’s truly unique talents.

- Bobby Motherwell

Supermoon - Oh, Supermoon is available now on digital download via Bandcamp.

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