Fires In Distant Buildings continues the murder themes which saturated previous releases, Flashlight Seasons and Black Holes In The Sand, but does so in a far more menacing manner. Rather than creeping up and putting a bullet in someone’s skull with a silencer gun, this time around we are witnesses to a full-scale violent attack. It’s glorious.
The folky nature of the last album has not been abandoned totally; rather build upon giving this latest effort a far more expansive, even epic, sound without losing any of the sinister edge.
Recorded in Bristol by multi-instrumentalist and chief songwriter Talbot with drummer David Collingwood, even the studio chosen to make the record has a creepy story. According to a blog written by Talbot, the Toybox Studios are haunted by the ghost of a horse, hanged “for a crime it didn’t commit” in 1888. What’s more he claims to have seen it… after drinking a bottle of cough syrup!
The brooding, menacing tone is set at the start of the album on Down River. When it comes it is with even more terror than ever before thanks to the added electric guitar from rock’s new Jack the Ripper. The heavy chord bursts offer a soundtrack to an attack you knew was coming but not quite when, and are even more brutal due to their juxtaposition with the eerie quiet of what precedes them.
The album’s masterpiece though is Velvet Cell. Released as a single, it is a fast-paced insight into the thoughts of a murderer, with Talbot singing, in his understated manner, “to understand the killer, I must become the killer”. Fair enough Nick, but sadly I haven’t got time to stay for that cup of tea after all.
The song then takes a brilliant twist mid-way through as it suddenly stops before slowly building again with a menacing guitar instrumental finale. Later in the album there is a reprise of the song, however you kind of feel that the original part was enough and this (just a chugging four and a half minute one-chord loop with some added weird noises) simply serves as an album filler.
Animals is a fair more straightforward song, featuring some late 1960s organ and a crescendo ending with some blistering guitar work. The lyrics are no-less morbid however, with thoughts of the subject’s own body in a river mulled over.
Nicole is a folky tune akin to earlier Gravenhurst material and for a while you’ll be fooled into thinking it is a simple love song. What, no murder theme? Can this be right? Ah, but hang on, just when you thought Talbot had gone soft the subject of suicide is mentioned. One thing that is soft though is his voice, undeniably soothing amid the evil he prophesizes.
Without doubt the most cheery song on the album is Cities Beneath The Sea, another acoustic effort, but one that skips along quite happily. Not your typical Gravenhurst song but included are some more of those organ sounds straight out of Saucerful Of Secrets-era Pink Floyd.
Things are back to their usual slow tempo on Song From Under The Arches, another chilling track with some truly savage guitar attacks which rise, Mogwai-like, to great heights from virtually nothing. This is the new Gravenhurst at its best – a ten minute song which wouldn’t have been out of place on King Crimson‘s classic Red album.
If that wasn’t enough, another sprawling epic ends the album. See My Friends, unbelievably, is a Kinks cover transformed with muffled vocals, mournful organ and ever more vociferous guitars and drums as it progresses, descending into chaos by the end.
This is not an album you’d expect to find on the Warp label but like fellow trend breakers Maximo Park, it is evidence that the company’s conveyor-belt of quality music is these days not restricted to artists who produce lots of bleeps and bloops. In fact this may be the best album the label release this year.