For a few years now David Thomas Broughton has carved himself a niche as one of Britain’s most individual songwriters and performers, to be classed alongside the likes of Devendra Banhart or Lone Pigeon. He is a man whose live show has become ever more spontaneous and experimental in recent months, drawing acclaim from all quarters. The question is, can it be replicated on his new album, Outbreeding?
Opener Lay River Lay introduces first time listener to what many consider to be Broughton’s party piece, namely his experimentation with sonic layers. What starts off as a delicate piece of acoustic guitar playing builds over six minutes to include percussion and subtle electronica to build until one by one the layers are removed again, to return the song more or less to the state in which it began. It’s clever and impressive stuff.
While Apologies continues with the subtle and atmospheric bent of the opening track, Nature is almost a straightforward pop song, until it’s garnished with first accordion, and then stabs of feedback. The plaintive Perfect Louise suddenly gains passages of bleeping 8-bit electronica around the halfway point, and along with Nature can provide a surprising listening experience for those expecting the songs to continue in melodic, pop stylings rather than descend into sonic jiggery-pokery. Those looking for tuneful immediacy can find it in the instant and accessible Ain’t Got No Sole, and the album closing Joke.
The two musically styles – the catchy, instant pop aspects vs the longer, multi-faceted and generally slower-paced songs – meld surprisingly well given the gulf in both sound and track length. The vocals, however, may not be to everyone’s taste: the heavily accented baritone is something of an acquired taste, albeit one that grows over the course of the album. What can’t be disputed, though, is Broughton’s grasp of the English language. It’s not everyday that you hear a song featuring the word ‘piffle’, and a distinct use of language can be found sprinkled liberally throughout the album.
If there’s a flaw with Outbreeding, it has to be that while it’s undoubtedly clever and well-thought out, it’s individual to the point where the listener feels excluded, a situation totally at odds with the new Antlers record, to name just one. There’s a lot to like about Outbreeding – it’s ambitious, melodic, and in a world where to many chart music is an endless parade of identikit artists and music it’s genuinely different. But when this individuality potentially marginalises the listener, it becomes music that can only be respected, rather than truly loved. It at times feels as though you’re being played something from a distance, rather than invited to join in this otherwise refreshing experience.