After living with Death Cap At Anglezarke for a couple of weeks, a powerful feeling of a Thoreau-related, Walden-esque return to nature begins to build in the heart and mind; a rediscovery of the essential self, and a jettisoning of all the flotsam and jetsam of modern life that distracts us from the core of who we really are.
Perhaps it’s something to do with the references to the natural world that run through the lyrics (fields of long grass, wasps, mushrooms and conker trees proliferate); perhaps it’s something to do with the beautiful cover photography by lens-woman Jody Rogac. It may well be to do with the pulchritudinous intertwining of the voices of Jon-Lee Martin and Helen Thorpe, or the pastoral, elegiac quality of the music that feels singular and organic in it’s arrangement and intent.
Whatever the reason, the album is a thing of astonishing, exquisite beauty.
All of which isn’t to say that it doesn’t rock, too. There’s 90’s alternative DNA running strongly through most of the tracks on offer here. You get a distinct feeling that Rivers Cuomo would have been very happy to have penned “Any Other Thing” for example, its fuzzed-up guitars adding vital and provocative texture, but not completely masking the gargantuan melody holding the song together.
Opening track, “Heaven Won’t Wait”, subtly pervades the consciousness like a thief in the night, the layers of Tom Griffin’s synth providing an ethereal sonic bed over which strummed guitar and the baritone voice of Jon-Lee Martin build a brittle surface tension. That tension finally breaks with the thundering rumble of Charlie Hartley’s drums and a decisive power-chord, ushering in the rest of the band to breathtaking effect. From there the track builds to it’s conclusion in sharp and accomplished style.
It segues almost directly into “Restart Your Heart”, the album’s first single from December last year, and a driving slice of indie-rock that wouldn’t sound out of place in the company of the best work of, say, Editors, or perhaps – and say it with a whisper – Joy Division. The song’s spritely tempo, pounding rhythm and lyric of fragile hope pave the way – and provide the perfect forward momentum – for the remainder of the LP.
The aforementioned “Any Other Thing” follows in it’s woozy beauty, before semi-title track “Death Cap” rambles in to view on a stop-start platform of stuttering guitar, and a pulverant, Pinkerton-esque drum pattern. These, abutted with the flocculent foundation of Martin and Thorpe’s vocal emoting, provide a beguiling and poetic piece of music that stays long in the mind.
“Ritalin Love” is a sultry, scuzzy pop gem, it’s languid pace bringing to mind long, hot summer holidays, misspent in woods, friend’s bedrooms and doing whatever else alienated awkward teens get up to during humid, hazy days. And from there, the mournful, minor-key inflected “Matthew”, the indie stomp of “Worms”, and second single and radio-friendly pop song “Tiny Legs”, continue to demonstrate that this Chorley six-piece are gifted and consummate practitioners of a particular brand of melodic, mellifluous and yet rough-hewn rock and roll.
From there it’s a proverbial hop, skip and jump through the equally rich pickings of the threnodial “Run Off”, the almost hymnal “A Wasp In Your Mouth”, and the paired back, stripped down troubadour’s take of “Any Other Thing (Reprise).”
Jon-Lee said recently in interview with Skin Back Alley that there wasn’t a conscious theme to the album: “The songs were kind of put together at random for the record… There wasn’t really much lineage to the choices of the songs.” And yet, serendipitously or otherwise, that sense of returning to self, of coming out of the other side of something, remains. Like all good works of art, there’s a feeling with this album that something mysterious, something just out of reach or beyond understanding, has somehow been captured in a bottle.
Or on a Neve console at least.
Death Cap At Anglezarke is released on the 5th May via Hatch Records.