“When does one become too old to whizz down a supermarket aisle on the back of a trolley while completely sober? At 26, I still get a kick out of it.” So reads a confessional entry in a recent ‘Send Us Your Txt’ column of London’s Metro. The quote is attributed to Jac – but having read the press release for Fairewell’s Poor, Poor Grendel you wonder if it is in fact the author, Johnny White himself.
White loves supermarkets, you see – not the sort of thing many sane people confess to. The Sonic Cathedral press release speaks of this love, shared via Facebook, where White expresses his convictions that the Colney Hatch branch of Tesco is haunted. Not only that, but he has a band called Tesco SS, further showing his devotion to what is surely one of the least favoured chores for any Britain.
Anyone loving supermarkets in this way is surely borne of a positive disposition, then – and that comes across in great swathes on this ambitious and rather wonderful debut album. Convention is all but thrown out of the window as White chooses to marry his songs with atmospheric instrumentals, achieving a condensed but no less intense parallel to M83’s Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming in the process. One of the instrumentals, the majestic Wild Meadow / I’ve Been Locked Away, features strong piano octaves for which Anthony Gonzalez would probably part with a small synthesizer.
The album continues to radiate positivity, though there are strongly nostalgic sentiments at times. In Honey Street, White laments that the harvest festival is ‘the worst I’ve ever known’. We feel his pain briefly – but as he sings of going back there, the mood is positive. Best of all is Born Under A Bad Sign, whose swooning riff bisects the strongly descriptive lyrics that tell of – you’ve guessed it – a trip to the supermarket on the bus. Here, though, White captures a strong sense of the strange funk that can descend on the brains of shoppers, though his positivity again wins the day, trumping the fragile instrumental that follows.
Poor, Poor Grendel may be a bit ragged in places, its joins sometimes too heavily signposted, but this is nonetheless a hugely impressive piece of work from a man with an unusual musical flexibility and a keen sense of emotion. Be prepared to be charmed and ever so slightly alarmed in equal measure – but if you listen to this on your next trip round the supermarket, the chances are you’ll be trolley surfing like Jac by the end of it.