A change is as good as a rest, so they say. Guillemots have obviously embraced this ethos full-scale, as, just over a year since their last album Walk The River, it’s all change for the exotically named quartet.
Something had to be done to revitalise the band. Walk The River was, in truth, a mediocre effort and nowhere near the quality of their sparklingly inventive debut. And while their live shows remained as joyous as ever, the impression remained of a band on their last legs.
The solution? A split with the old record company, a relocation to Norway, and an ambitious plan to release four album during 2012, each coinciding with the seasons. The first, Hello Land!, has taken everyone by surprise, suddenly released online with absolutely no prior fanfare, and sees the band return to their experimental origins.
At only eight tracks long, with a couple of instrumentals and an average song lasting nearly six minutes, it’s clear that the band have found a new freedom in not being pressurised to write a hit single. Not that this is the Guillemots’ Metal Machine Music – any track here could fit snugly onto a radio playlist – but there’s a calmness and assured presence on Hello Land! that hasn’t really been there since Through The Windowpane.
Spring Bells is an almost ambient instrumental to welcome you in, before things take a pleasantly odd turn with Up On The Ride. It’s pretty much, to coin a phrase, a song of two halves: Fyfe Dangerfield helms the first few minutes with a beautifully fragile vocal, before a mid-section of what sounds like a self-help tape rambling on, and then a gorgeous Phil Spector-like coda sung by Aristazabal Hawkes of “stay with me baby”.
Surprises abound. The longest track here, Byebyeland, pulls off the tricky effect of sounding utterly calming while cramming an awful lot into its nine minutes. It’s effectively an instrumental, but with all manner of odd effects and Dangerfield and Hawkes’ ethereal, wordless vocals, the effect is spine-tingling.
Of the more conventional songs, Nothing’s Going To Bring Me Down is a particular highlight, with lyrics like “I couldn’t get much lower anyway” hinting at troubles underneath the seemingly calm surface. The pastoral Summer Wind and the deceptively funky Fleet are probably the most old-school Guillemots here, although no tracks on Hello Land are likely to scare off the casual fan.
It’s an intriguing experiment, and a largely successful one at that. By the time that the dramatic orchestration on the closing I Lie Down has faded away, you’re already eagerly marking the days on the calendar off until the next instalment in Guillemots’ new adventure.