Bucolic, understated indie folk from London sextet offers some delightful tunes and quite lovely vocals
Billy Connolly once observed, “My definition of an intellectual is someone who can listen to the William Tell Overture without thinking of The Lone Ranger”. Listening to On A Grassy Knoll (We’ll Bow Together), the second track on London sextet Tapir!’s debut album, they may be so fey and otherworldly that they are the first people in 50 years to use the phrase “grassy knoll” without thinking of JFK. The album is a collection of three EPs of bucolic, understated indie folk which tell a somewhat inscrutable epic story, and the first of these, Act 1 (The Pilgrim), sets the tone, but lowers the expectations.
It opens with some slightly cheesy Americana picking and whistling, before said non-assassination tune adds a hissing drum machine to some wistful folky arrangements to come off part charming, part infuriating – imagine a Canterbury scene band formed by Four Tet, Arab Strap, and Rod, Jane & Freddy. There’s an early Genesis mingling of whimsy and preciousness which doesn’t convince, and the third track, Swallow, is what The Simpsons’ Martin Prince and his “Shall I serenade you with my lute?” schtick might become if he spent twenty years hanging out in hipster record shops. Doggerel like “On my way home I caught a swallow/ With broken wings and a face that’s narrow” is half Bright Eyes, half Tom Bombadil, and all pretty naff.
But thankfully, after these disappointing opening tracks the album improves immensely. Following The Nether (Face To Face), a sweet little lullaby with a strange un-rap chant of “It’s cold, it’s dark/ Throw your bones in the ancient water” as if we’ve stepped into the cosiest little Dagon-worshipping cult in existence, Act 2 begins, delivering some delightful tunes. Broken Ark has a tinny “pok pok” drum machine rhythm as heard on Damon Albarn’s more recent work, nice fuzzy guitar and simple keys. The vocal is quite lovely, more natural and less self-conscious than the cracking high register of Act 1. A swooning cello gives a delicious Nick Drake flavour. No surprises that a motif is nicked from Erik Satie on Gymnopédie, but it’s appended to a sweet, elegant vocal melody, and sounds like a cousin of Mercury Rev’s Holes held together by lolly sticks and Blu Tack. “Jesus had headlice” is an unusual line, though probably historically accurate, and heralds a move away from the fifth-form Arthuriana of the earlier lyrics, until we have the strange collage of slogans on My God (all to a vocal line which is basically Young Hearts Run Free, inexplicably).
Untitled is a country-flecked lope, a shy retiring version of The Band, bringing in female vocals to excellent effect, and nodding towards Radiohead with “For a second there I lost my head”. Mountain Song ends the album, claiming “I built myself a mountain made of things I wished I own” like the exact opposite of Björk’s Hyperballad, before an extended outro which builds up a single phrase Ennio Morricone-style, with trumpet and massed voices. It’s a pleasing finish to a rather uneven collection. People often say that the first episode of a sit-com is disappointing, and you should skip to the second, which is exactly the approach we propose for this album.