Never mind the second album; it’s the third that has proved to be Aberfeldy’s nemesis. Since the brightly poppy Do Whatever Turns You On, an incomprehensible four years ago, the band have been dropped from Rough Trade, imploded and rebuilt.
The lyrical clues to the torturous time endured by singer Riley Briggs in particular are littered throughout the melodic songs on this record. “I toured around Europe and I cheated on you. I’m only a singer, that’s all I can do,” he notes pensively in If I Were A Joiner, reflecting on his break-up with the band’s keyboard player Ruth Barrie. It gets worse. “Being around you is so very hard, it’s like an establishment from which I’ve been barred”, he complains. Ouch.
Play The Music Loud goes further, venturing into Paddy McAloon territory. “I wish somebody had told me we wouldn’t last another year,” laments Briggs. The same surface cheeriness that made the band’s first two albums so appealing is still there, but the clouds beneath the surface are bigger and less easily obscured.
Cleverly the band work this to their advantage. When he put together the new line-up Briggs was careful to keep the male-female balance, and in fact went for two girls in Kirsten Adamson, daughter of the late Big Country‘s front man Stuart, and Poppy Ackroyd, who puts her voice and violin to good use. Both acquit themselves well, and add a tenderness to the darker hues of Briggs’ lyrics.
Each song tells a story – and not all of them deal with break-ups. California, West Lothian tells the improbable but true story of Briggs’ years living in a commune run by a former member of The Incredible String Band. Throughout, the songs are deeply personal, and four of them are on first name terms, dealing with annoying neighbours (Claire), an imaginary plea to Michael Jackson (Lisa-Marie) and Malcolm, a breezy kind of chap.
Somewhere To Jump From sometimes feels like ending it all – hence the title – but comes out the other side a stronger and more resourceful animal. That Aberfeldy’s core musical style remains unchanged credits their strength of character – and the addition of a dark side here and there suits them. Proof, if it were needed, that you can’t keep a good set of songwriters down.