Picture a wannabe Ennio Morricone trapped within the body of a straw-chewing, black-haired nihilist indie kid. Sat in his bedroom with an acoustic guitar, he gazes up at the posters on his black walls. Tom Waits is ensconced in a paper prison over the bed. A ripped, dog-eared shot of Spike Milligan (complete with fresh marker pen additions of a twirly moustache and round rimmed spectacles) adorns the back of the door, and all over the wardrobe doors are collages made from pictures of mutilated corpses.
Such a bedroom might have been responsible for forming the minds behind The Bitter Tears. It might not have done, but it helps us rationalise this latest offering.
Jam Tarts… finds The Bitter Tears treading the path of least resistance. If you were to attempt to classify them, you’d probably plump for country/folk, but there are so many genre elements that make an appearance, it seems little more than an arbitrary gesture to pigeon hole them.
Despite a dizzying array of instrumentation, what The Bitter Tears do so well, is keep it simple. The arrangements are pretty basic, which has to be applauded. They take these bare bones, and dress them with string sections, and parps of brass. More often than not they come up with something that at times borders on the magical.
With so many folk types using fragmented, nasty sounding chord progressions in an attempt to sound different these days, it’s a relief to find a band that keep things straightforward.
When you start studying the lyrics, you find a band exploring the darker side of life with a keen wit and lashings of humour. Nothing seems to go right for the characters in their songs at all.
There’s the psychotic farmer on the opening track Slay The Heart Of The Earth who loves his land, then hates it, and then picks a fight with the God that put it there. That such a perky little number should feature the idea of a farmer mocking up a barn to look like the nativity so that he can decapitate the three wise men would make little sense in any world other than that of The Bitter Tears (and perhaps Nick Cave‘s).
A further display of nihilism appears in The Love Letter which takes a marriage and forces it towards suicide. Finding a bleak culmination for each of their tales is a distinct quality of The Bitter Tears, but such an outlook rarely finds a home in their music, which, thanks to the addition of that brass and southern tinted strings is for the most part jaunty and uplifting.
Perhaps the best moment comes on The Companion, a song which has shot straight to the top of my favourite songs of the year so far. A tale of issues with Mother (desecration of a grave is the pay off – oh yes!), it’s the single most creepy moment on the album. A sparse guitar creeps away behind the main vocal melody before hitting the explosion of the chorus.
It’s a truly cathartic moment, and one that the band exploit to the fullest – Alan Scalpone’s roar is spine tingling, and such is the directness of the song, it hits the target every time.
If there were any justice, to wheel out a hackneyed hacky cliche, The Bitter Tears would be one of the bands to watch this year.