[Released 10/10/2011 - Gargleblast]
I’ve been waiting patiently for the new album from Rustie to be added to Spotify. Hopefully it will be added soon, but in the meantime I discovered this album, via the good Laird Ayetunes. Martin John Henry was a key player in now defunct De Rosa (not sure if he actually played any keys though) and this is, I believe, his first offering as a solo artist. You should never judge a book by its cover, but you can get a sense of what it will be like. The same is true here, as the craggy landscape detailed above is very much alive in the music. Similar claims were made of King Creosote and Jon Hopkins’ Diamond Mine, and the evocation of place is pretty much spelt out in the lyrics of ‘New Maps’, where Henry tells us that he has ‘filled my heart, filled my lungs, with a map of where I’m from’. Sean Guthrie puts it nicely for The Herald in recognising the way that ‘flinty greys, blues, greens; the odd shaft of yolky yellow – start to bleed through the canvas’.
This isn’t landscape as something to look at though, as Henry takes you on a journey that moves with rather than alights upon his musical terrain: ‘Wherever your feet fall, I’ll measure the rainfall…every last drop’ he sings on ‘I Love Map’. This distance from the pastoral landscape is evident in second track ‘Span’, which has the effect of a takeaway container nestled in a patch of thistle, all gaudy artifice run through with spiky beats, something that jars with the remainder of the album (I much prefer the remix by Malcolm Middleton featured on the The Other Half Remixes, available here). That said, you can’t expect 11 morose Munros, and at least it keeps things interesting. ‘Ribbon on a Bough’ is probably as similar to this as the other tracks get, making use of the electronic toolkit to craft a catchy little number that focuses on something or someone out of place. I have a lot of time for most of the stuff here, ‘Seventh Song’ reveals Henry to being ‘used to regret […] used to feeling upset’. It’s a shame for him personally, but it makes for a great song, a single picked acoustic (later electric) guitar backed with the odd wave of strings and cymbals softly crashing onto the shore of his sorrow.
Henry also has a few tricks up his sleeve: ‘Choose Your Words Carefully’ lulls the listener along before it rounds a corner to reveal its dark side. Of course what evokes place more than anything is Henry’s voice, brittle and weathered it carries the majority of the album’s emotional heft. That said, the variety of instruments and song structure affords him a rich palette from which to create his musical landscape, and the vibrancy and dark beauty of tracks such as ‘There’s a Phantom Hiding in My Loft’ and ‘Only Colour’ are the result. Is the former some kind of response to the aforementioned KC’s ‘Bats in the Attic’? One can only wonder. Then again, I’m sure King Kenny would be proud to put his name to many of these tunes himself.