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Guillemots - Hello Land!
We are TREMENDOUSLY excited about it.
_Another lesson in modest brilliance from the former Brit and Mercury nominees._ Wyndham Wallace
They creep up on you, Guillemots, as the best music so often does. There’s no boasting, there are few brash novelties – unless you count their plan to release four albums in one year, of which this is the first, a record released without any word of warning – and, if they’ve been slung out of Soho bars late at night, the news has never made the headlines. Their music, however, is full of a sophisticated charm that sidles quietly into one’s heart before quietly whispering that it’s arrived. That’s the music that often stays the longest.
Hello Land! was recorded at an undisclosed mountain hideaway in Norway, and the environment seems to have lent these eight songs a genuine pastoral calm. That’s especially apparent on Outside, which begins with the sound of feet trampling the show, and the nine-minute Byebyeland, an instrumental that might be considered shoegaze it if weren’t perpetually staring at the stars.
Nothing here lacks the ambition and arrangements that have characterised the band’s career to date. Founder Fyfe Dangerfield’s classical training continues to flourish: the album wafts in on reverb-drenched guitars and gentle breezes of flute (courtesy of the Norwegian Flute Ensemble) before Up On the Ride gets underway, Dangerfield’s restrained falsetto floating atop intricate instrumentation ready to warm those longing for Radiohead to return to the heartfelt sentiment of The Bends. It doesn’t take long, however, for the track to transform into the kind of joyous indie pop perfected by The Magic Numbers, and a similar trick is undertaken on Fleet, which evolves from its sparse, pastoral introduction into a white soul tune, complete with funk guitars. Imagine something The Blue Nile might have recorded had they not been so despondent.
Nothing’s Going to Bring Me Down could also merit a Blue Nile comparison, its sincerity unquestionable, Dangerfield’s voice imbued with the same sense of comforting, you’re-not-alone longing as Paul Buchanan’s. Southern Winds, though, is more reminiscent of David Crosby’s early solo work, or even Simon & Garfunkel, its acoustic guitar nestling amid flutes and the incongruous pop and crackle of vinyl. It’s this sense of the unexpected that makes Guillemots such a treasure: they don’t beg for attention. They simply deserve it.
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 8 tracks long, with a couple of instrumentals and an average song lasting nearly 6 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.
_First of four this year from Birmingham quartet paves the way for gorgeous sonic experimentation_
It's hard to remember sometimes, as you hum along to the singalong refrains and soaring choruses of their relative hits such as "Trains to Brazil" or "Get Over It", that Guillemots have never been a pop band. Rather, the four-piece have always provided the musical manifestations of some of the more deranged ideas flitting through fabulously named frontman Fyfe Dangerfield's head at any given time. Songs that seem charming enough on the surface reveal more with every listen, whether it's the clever instrumentation or the lyrical flights of fancy or - as early as the band's debut - the 11-minute long instrumental fade-outs packed with the same rush, the same glorious freedom, as a parachute jump.
So when Dangerfield appeared last week on BBC 6Music, previewing two tracks and announcing that the album from which they sprang would be available to buy in mere hours - well, it was a surprise, but it was a surprise from a band whose music transmits a sense that, really, they could do anything. Hello Land! is in fact the first of four albums the band will release this year, loosely based around the seasons (they admit this first is a little late) recorded in some undisclosed mountain hideaway in Norway complete with orchestral elements that will change with each release.
Yet, despite its unusual genesis, there is nothing hurried about these eight tracks. From its gentle instrumental beginnings in "Spring Bells", the work of the Norwegian Flute Ensemble a ghostly underpinning, Hello Land! stretches and sighs like an album that is slowly waking up, easing into "Up on the Ride" and "Fleet" with their found sounds and funk guitars and part-falsetto vocals. Tracks are ambitious and surprising, changing tack halfway through to introduce elements of electronica or classic rock to pastoral folk beginnings, via strangely evocative spoken-word interludes.
"Nothing's Going to Bring Me Down" is classic Guillemots - a gently evocative opening vocal which swirls into a frenzied crescendo of uplifting instrumentation - and "Byebyeland" is nine minutes of some fusion between contemporary classical and shoegaze that does not outstay its welcome. As a sign of things to come, the opening chapter in the band's 2012 adventure is very exciting indeed.
Guillemots return with an expansive, ambitious project spanning 2012. As a band who've never been afraid to buck trends and break molds, this year sees Fyfe Dangerfield and crew relocate to remote Norway to record four albums, loosely released around the changing of the seasons. 'Hello land!' is the first offering from the newly invigorated guillemots and is a wonderful record. While the group's intention is to record and release quickly, 'hello land' doesn't let up on the sparkling arrangements, powerful songwriting and sense of wonderment that characterises Guillemots records. Tracks like 'fleet' signpost a sonically lush direction, with bubbling synths and almost chillwave backbeat accompanying Dangerfield's affecting voice, while opener 'spring bells' showcases the band's whimsical instrumental aspects. It's Dangerfield's vocals that nail the best parts however, always walking the tightrope between joy and melancholy. Off-the-cuff and yet perfectly honed 'hello land!' is a wonderful start to anybody's year.
CD Album (CON150D)
- Guillemots - Spring Bells
- Guillemots - Up On the Ride
- Guillemots - Fleet
- Guillemots - Southern Winds
- Guillemots - Outside
- Guillemots - Nothing's Going to Bring Me Down
- Guillemots - Byebyeland
- Guillemots - I Lie Down