This is a stark and startling revelation. A musical slap in the facethat leaves an intoxicating tingle. A set of songs, so jauntilyfatigued, so open and brutally honest, so aching and bright. MalcolmMiddleton has spent so long framing the mildew melancholia of Arab Strapin nicotine-stained sepia that the sheer blistering thump and rush ofInto The Woods is dizzying.
Against a set of beautifully realised backdrops, Middleton sings ofthe dark spaces and empty places on the flipside of happiness. Hisvoice is warm and ragged, a Falkirk burr adding fragile humanity to hismusing.
The single Loneliness Shines is a bloodrush of memory and melody,built around an acoustic guitar that slices like a switchblade throughthe swathes of My Bloody Valentine swirling ambient pop. Controlledheartbreak, a platinum plated howl.
Bear With Me opens with sharp clusters of white noise before itexpands out into a brittle early New Order shuffle all melodic bassand desolate strings. It then morphs again into a delicate reverbdrenched coda.
No Modest Bear is slinky and funky. A keyboard riff booms out, asMiddleton twists his words around the vigorous rhythm. It’s likeStevie Wonder‘s Superstition with a Buckie induced hangover. A HappyMedium is collision of sharp beats and jangling guitars. Choir is perfectoff-kilter pop, edgy warped disco beats and synth hand claps draggedalong by an undertow of sparse piano notes and elegiac cello. SolemnThirsty is like the rush of wave up a shingle beach in winter. Clangingsnares and a gloomy bassline tussle with a bright plaintive guitar riff asMiddleton sings of his self doubt and the fears of aging. Real deathdisco.
Eastenders gets a name check on the grim anti-Christmas hymn, BurstNoel. A gentle finger-picked guitar and chiming Christmas bells backMiddleton’s bitter ruminations. The piano-led Autumn opens with apowerful lyrical stab that I don’t want to spoil, its spills from the speakerslike morning-after bile. The music sways around a circling piano andcello motif, until an anguished guitar solo briefly cuts through.Middleton: resentful of the painful memories that autumn always ushers into hismind.
Lyrically this is magnificent stuff. The lines are endlessly quotable.They cut through to the marrow of love and loss with a rapier-like aim.Self-deprecating, self-flagellating, bitter, humble, funny, bleak,hopeful. It would be unjust to Middleton to rip them out of context.There is no attempt to sugar-coat his observations, his eye isunwavering, his pen unforgiving. The darker more uncomfortable edges of thematerial are made palatable by the beauty and breath of the music. In aworld where Chris Martin’s empty clich�s escape criticism, it’s refreshingto hear someone pen words so original and execute them with suchverve.
An album to lose yourself in, to cherish and warm your soul.