In the age of the download single, Meursault’s second outing All Creatures Will Make Merry is a risky one. For a start, some of its tracks are epic belters that career on far past the three-and-a-half-minute standard and, stripped away from the rest of the album, they’re a confused, muddled collection.
But those patient enough to hit play and listen the whole way through will be rewarded with a fascinating album of electro-folk experiments dripped in heart-wrenching, raw emotion that more than once calls Frightened Rabbit to mind.
They waste no time with easing in slowly, instead jumping straight in with a sharp, one minute blast of rolling piano and pained, wailing vocals. To the unacquainted, Payday introduces Neil Pennycook’s distinct, far-away and very Scottish vocals. It conjures up images of dawn break, rolling coastlines and crashing waves, but stops abruptly, giving way to album highlight Crank Resolutions.
The only song that really works on its own, it’s a gem of a live track, giving Pennycook free reign to yelp and drum with an almost possessed ferocity. It lives up to the promise of their first album Pissing On Bonfires/Kissing With Tongues, finding the perfect blend of ye olde folk sounds and crackling electronic layers. It also gives a clue as to the direction of All Creatures Will Make Merry – “I broke down on New Year’s Day and I mixed my drinks and I lost my way…” he confesses, over a fascinatingly hectic, seemingly haphazard instrumental arrangement. Despite the cluttering of background noise, his on-the-verge-of-tears echoed vocals bring an end of the world loneliness to the song. It’s spine tingling stuff.
So the rest of the album has a lot to live up to and, while never quite reaching the goosebumply heights of Crank Resolutions, continues the journey. It’s not all as busy and chaotic, and the likes of Weather and Another are simple, sparse and calming, but still with a rough round the edges production that gives them a lo-fi, camp fire charm. The best example of this side of Meursault is One Day This’ll All Be Fields, which sees a solitary banjo strummed over the top of layers of rain and an over-distorted, fuzzy Pennycook vocal.
The mood dips and dives across the record, and the while the following track What You Don’t Have sounds even more distant, it signals a change of tack and feels like it’s climbing out of its darkest moment, seeing the light again. Pounding and thudding beats give chase as the dreamy line “You saw me dreaming of the world that I wouldn’t have lost more than five minutes ago” is repeated over and over.
New Ruin will satisfy those who’ve dubbed Meursault ‘The Scottish Arcade Fire‘ – with frantic drums married with crackly strings, it’s overblown and dramatic, with plenty of haunting yelps.
The band continues its tradition of naming tracks after obscure personalities, which saw them release single William Henry Miller after the book collector and MP, with an ode to Martin Kippenberger, the artist behind some of Manic Street Preachers‘ artwork, including the infamous Holy Bible cover. A seven minute disjointed ramble, it sets the tone for closer A Fair Exchange which, after the intensity of the preceding 10 tracks, feels light and breezy in comparison. It’s like you’ve reached the other side.
That’s not to say All Creatures Will Make Merry is a dark album – there’s an ever present uplifting edge, and even in its murkiest moments there’s always a glimmer of hope; something the band will no doubt apply to their career too. It might not have the commercial potential a collection of Crank Resolutions would have, but as an LP that fans will cherish and endlessly dissect, they’ve struck gold.