This is the first review that I have written since David Bowie died. This is relevant because he had a huge impact on how I listen to and understand music. While this no doubt informs everything I write about music implicitly, the amount I have been thinking about him and his music this week will surely affect how I hear anything new this week.
As usual I have a long list of new albums to listen to from amazing through interesting to those that are not really for me, ‘Blezard’ by Cavalier Song is definitely towards the former end of that particular continuum. It is also the album on my list that I felt was most in the spirit of Bowie at his best (which for me is the albums ‘Low’ and ‘Heroes’), where he could convey something that is in the same package beautiful, challenging, intuitive and emotional. This is an album that takes risks and asks a great deal of the listener, but in return delivers something that is very rewarding.
I had listened to ‘Blezard’ last week and been thoroughly moved by it, but hearing it again today, probably with a heightened sense for such things, has underpinned for me how elegiac it is. This is an album with which you can really sit back (or even sit up) and meditate on the nature of life and its vagaries; it is an album through which you can lose yourself…and find yourself.
‘Anode’, the opener with its single predominant drone, accompanied by what sounds like a mellow acoustic guitar and a series of clicks, allows the listener to focus on the music from the outset and from there on there is real jazz feel to the record. This is no ‘muzak’ though, there is a wonderful sense of space here, a feeling that no single note, gesture or sound is wasted. There is a precision here which reminds me of a carefully raked Zen garden.
With the exception of ‘Easy Spider’ and the lead track, ‘Stones for Throwing’, this is a particularly laid back and ambient album. ‘Stones for Throwing’ is the track that will initially throw you out of your trance with its interspersing of screaming fuzzy guitars with loops and beats…it is not representative of the album but comes as a welcome refreshment to prevent reverie. At just over three minutes it is easily the shortest track on the album, and really allows added texture and perspective to the rest of the lp. The same could be said of ‘Easy Spider’ which initially has a motorik beat at its foundation around which chaos appears to reign as pops and beats orbit the central driving force of the bass, with interludes of meditative calm. This is a track that just seems to keep on building before falling back into a jazz rhythm that seems all the more tranquil after the cathartic cleansing of the previous tumult.
‘Oarfish’, sandwiches between ‘Easy Spider’ and ‘Stones for Throwing’ is like an oasis of calm, an eternal pool by which you can sit and contemplate the occasional ripples and allow the torrents on the other two tracks to settle themselves in your mind. As with ‘Anode’ there is great use of space on this track, which for me evokes a great stillness with its calming rhythms and ambient tones.
‘Trees’, at just over ten minute long, is a fitting way to close the album keeping the pattern of quite/ loud tracks. Here the relative sonic violence of ‘Easy Spider’ quickly subsidies and the listener is once again left with huge open spaces with which to focus and/ or expand their mind. Once again there is a sparseness and precision to this track which rewards exclusive and repeated listens. This is a track that is invasive, yet allows a certain freedom of thought as a result…the opposite of the ‘reality’ that we encounter in everyday life. Around six minutes in there is what seems like a very long silence and then the track begins to slowly bring us out of our trance and back into the light…into the bizarre chaos of our existence…back to the despotism of our dystopian actuality.
There is no easy way to sum up this album because it is one that will challenge different people in different ways. As someone who regularly walks through post-industrial landscapes finds meaning in the dilapidated, and beauty in the re-assertion of nature in such places I see both hope and despair in this album. A despair for what has been ruined, but a hope for what can emerge and endure as a result.
I have no idea whether David Jones would like this album, but it seems to me to be the sort of intuitive and spiritual work that David Bowie would have very much appreciated. I similarly have no idea whether Cavalier Song would welcome this comparison, but it is meant as a complement and ‘Blezard’ has been a very welcome listen during this challenging week.
‘Blezard’ is Cavalier Song’s first full length recording, produced by Stephen Cole, and released on God Unknown Records on February 22nd. The duo from Liverpool are currently working with Paul Rafferty on visual product to accompany their vinyl release, and have also collaborated with the poet Mark Greenwood on a textual objet d’art inspired by the track ‘Oarfish’.
‘Blezard’ track list:
2.Stones for Throwing