The most successful stories are always ones that encourage the mind to imagine new worlds, illustrate tales and fill in blanks with personal interpretations.
Bearing that subjective visual imagery in mind, To The Victor, The Spoils is Lemon Jelly frontman Fred Deakin and The Beta Band‘s Robin Jones’ musical story of a journey to banish a traitor. The six tracks make up a tuneful duel, but Flashman tell it through so many instruments and styles that it ranges from masterful to, at times, a difficult listen.
Limited to 1,000 copies in either blue or red covers, the success of this album will depend on how well the tracks strike a chord. Familiar Lemon Jelly-esque soft beats creep across The Proposition’s stark, mixed suspense-ridden dischords that speak of a beginning. Falling into shuffling drums and subtle ‘plink, plonks’, dense layers give it a scat-like structure that twists in different directions, punctuated by guest star, British-Canadian Wally Falkes’ jazz clarinet.
Deakin’s “jazz-folk-techno” description of Flashman fits well with Setting Forth, where a plucked bass bosses the frenzied tempo. Jazz pianist Brian Kellock’s guest piano dives in and out with Spanish fiesta notes, and there’s a brief pause to catch breath before the track takes the same course, only this time with a solitary pre-bull fight Latino trumpet.
Elsewhere, Tight Spot merges a piano loop reminiscent of ’90s dance with slow, bossa nova jazz beats. It’s mesmerising piano is the purposeful instrument, relaying with an ethereal hummed loop, harmonica, tabla drum, and clarinet. Pitter-pattering rainfall pianos begin The Quisling, an odd, atmospheric track that wouldn’t sit uncomfortably backing a homes-abroad TV programme. Santana-like siren guitars weave with hold-music beats, but it’s the talents of Kellock stop this track fading away.
Guitars and a sung loop banish the doom-laden keyboards that introduce Redemption, and layers of instrumental repeat give the track richness and depth. It’s one of the few in this collection that could easily fall onto dancefloors from the hands of jazz-techno crossover DJs like Mr Scruff. The Flashman duo steady their listener using peaks and troughs, each time building the same insistent jazz beat from which the layers cascade gloriously.
Then, re-visiting a Lemon Jelly trademark, a breathy, see-sawing male vocal repeats track title, Heading Home. Backed by a slow, ranging piano, the pace slows after Redemption like an aerobic warm down to a sunrise soundtrack. Soft violins contrast with ear piercing keyboard notes, and sentimental plucked guitar riffs speak of the melancholic reminiscing that people often do when thinking of places they used to live.
There’s no doubting this is a complex and, at times, beautiful record. It’s hard not to be impressed by the myriad layering which provokes emotions and imagination where other instrumental albums fail. But the jury’s still out on whether this group of individually brilliant musicians lives up to To The Victor, The Spoils’ original promise of a story. And that’s because it’s not quite cohesive enough to create a jazz-folk-techno world you want to experience over and over again.