Catching up with the old alt-rock favourites; an avant-garde prog-folk concept album about the 6th century Anglo-Saxon kingdom… no really that’s what the album is about.
The Kills – Ash & Ice
Ever since becoming slave to the mortgage, I’m playing eternal catch up to my bunch of favourite artists, and now I finally got my hands on this latest 2016 release from the dynamic duo of Alison Mosshart and Jamie Hince. I’ve been a long-time fan of their nervy minimalist take on rock/blues and Mosshart is one of my favourite female vocalists (and a giant girlcrush after seeing The Kills and The Dead Weather live), so it’s nice to see them still going strong after 15 years. Ash & Ice doesn’t re-invent the wheel and maybe lacks the intensity and edge of their earlier work, but it encompasses everything The Kills do well while throwing in some extra reggae/Afro-pop touches. Every album by The Kills has at least one maddeningly catchy track with that trademark groove, and here it’s the irresistibly funky Bitter Fruit.
Richard Dawson – Peasant
This surely takes the cake for the weirdest album I’ve heard in a very long time. I stumbled on Richard Dawson while scrolling through the music recommendations on The Guardian website; he’s a British folk singer-songwriter with six albums under his belt whose music was described as “not an easy listen”. This new album is apparently his most accessible work to date and the first spin still left me with, WTF did I just listen to.
Peasant is a concept album set in the ancient Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Bryneich, with each track named after its narrator’s profession – Soldier, Weaver, Prostitute and so on. This is an album where you absolutely must pay attention to the lyrics for the full appreciation, and Peasant is mostly concerned with detailing the misery, brutality and filth of the medieval world. A sample from Prostitute: My last bedfellow is choked to the death on a dummy of puke. Or from Weaver: I steep the wool in a cauldron of pummelled gail-nuts afloat in urine.
Despite this visceral and sometimes disturbing imagery, the music is frequently beautiful and delicate, with harps, strings, Renaissance flutes and gorgeous choire, though it always keeps you on your toes by the unexpected detours just when you begin to get comfortable. The urgent stomping Scientist is probably the closest thing to a conventional catchy song, but otherwise Dawson’s melodies meander all over the shop and refuse to settle into conventional structures. Dawson’s vocals are likewise an uneasy mix of rich soulful baritone and moments when he sounds like a dying donkey and practically dares you to press the skip button. He always conveys a deep sense of empathy for his unfortunate bunch of poverty and misery-stricken characters, which is rather endearing.
I rarely have time anymore to devote effort to a challenging record, but Peasant was definitely worth it.