A new album from Mike Vennart is certainly something to get excited about, and an unexpected one released with little build up – only a week after it was announced – is even more of a treat. In the Dead, Dead Wood marks the third chapter in the ex-Oceansize man’s solo career, seeing him strike out anew with particularly satisfying results.
The blurb points to songs being “written quickly during lockdown 2020, with some forgotten bits exhumed and rescued from years ago”, which suggests something cobbled together. Not so: this is skilfully crafted stuff, full of excellent diversions that both cast your mind back to Vennart’s former band and also project it forward to a tinsel and glitter future of wonderfulness.
From the off, Silhouette rises majestically on an elegant guitar figure, Joe Lazarus’ drums pitching in as Vennart launches into the verse. It crackles with energy as the chorus punches through, a fine opener with Mike on top form, big and brash in a staticy blast of fuzzed guitars and subtle keyboards. If this doesn’t open the show when Vennart and band are once again able to tread the boards, there’s something else wrong with the world. Jerky bristles of bass and guitar jump in on punky drums as Super Sleuth snaps and bites at your ankles. Again, Mike’s swaggering vocal is superb, the winning and groovesome chorus built on a massive riff. The drop into Charlie Barnes’ delicate piano melody is perfectly judged, then a thumping section of pitching and weaving guitars that could have come from Oceansize’s angsty Self Preserved While the Bodies Float Up, Mike’s trademark screams ramping up the tension. The acknowledgement “Singing recorded at home. Thank you neighbours” is rightly directed.
Phew! It’s as heavy as a grand piano in a lift shaft, but put together with a refreshing lightness of touch. Elemental pulls things back, the pace slowed with piano adding a beautiful restraint. This is a different kettle of fish entirely, wistful and reserved, delivered with engaging emotion, the complete antithesis of what has gone before, at least until the buzzing guitars take hold and Mike’s voice rises. The undulating piano returns though, add in a guitar solo with rough edges retained and it’s a fabulously dynamic listen, the vocal almost intoned in the quiet moments, brooding power unleashed around these calm oases. Very nicely done.
This is an album that lends itself to a good ol’ fashioned track by track, Lancelot changing the direction with a foundation of sparse electric piano supporting the voice, until driving drum patterns picks things up. Guitars and synths work around each other, the melodic side rising gracefully over a busy bass. It’s fragile and fragmented, a hint of Cardiacs spite sliding in with the demonic vocal. Deftly delivered, it’s a real palate cleanser, growing in intensity towards the end as an epic melody emerges, heavy but held back from fully putting the boot in.
The title track is as spooky as its name suggests, glowering synths weighing down like a ghostly fog. The epic quality remains, images of Dracula’s castle appearing from the gloom, all towering and malevolent stone, but is it a mirage, smoke and mirrors to baffle the senses? This is unlike anything in Mike’s catalogue, setting a whole new tone, and forming a nice end to the first half, from which Weight In Gold picks up, suggesting that ‘Side Two’ has started. These final tracks are longer, the pace slow. From the plaintive guitar intro, things soon morph into power trio stadium rock with amps fully cranked. Mike sings forcefully in his high registers, tipping over into shrieks of emotion with more expansive Oceansize tones, melody lines emerging from the fuzzy wall of sound, an intense thing of charged beauty.
Mourning on the Range suggests wild west gunfights, the tension held by the drums. Another fine and characterful vocal with the sweep of descending keys opening the horizon whilst also making everything strangely claustrophobic, like falling down a well. A chugging riff emerges as the vocal goes off-piste with more busy bass. There’s room for frenzied soloing, the measured vocal holding it all together in a song of many phases – all of them noteworthy.
Finally, Forc in the Road, distant guitars emerging from slow, disjointed drums, coloured with distinctive piano flavours. There’s a sedate lift off, the lightness carrying through into a vocal so airy it needs ropes to hold it down, but it still escapes, floating out of reach on mesmerising gossamer touches, fragile and intriguing. There’s just as much power here as in the thunderous earlier tracks, but the buzzing guitars that slowly appear roll beautifully, massive and intensely melodic as the pace doesn’t waver, measured power with the piano line flowing beneath the menacing darkness, giving way to the sunshine of trebly picked bass.
Jaw dropping. This is the parachuting aftermath of the earlier tornado blowing your house away and casting you spinning over the rainbow. An album to play LOUD. But there’s more; Forc in the Road is not the 12-minute epic it appears, it is appended by the cunningly veiled bonus Concierge where piano and harmonium sway over ’60-tinged bass. It’s the perfect comedown, optimistic and upbeat, almost dreamlike, Mike imperious amid the swirling sounds.
What a fucking album this is.
The writing is succinct and on point, focused on achieving its goals, and Mike’s vocal performance is probably his best ever, showing huge variety and versatility amid a veritable shit-ton of interesting musical avenues. This is sure to keep his supporters not only happy but jumping up and down with delight.
Oceansize fans, rejoice. Vennart fans, rejoice. New fans who don’t realise that they’re fans yet – Rejoice!
The cohesion and sheer heft undoubtedly produce Vennart’s finest solo work to date, deftly covering a lot of ground to provide an experience both visceral and intoxicatingly beautiful, more rounded and full than The Demon Joke, less angular and ‘out there’ than To Cure A Blizzard Upon A Plastic Sea. If this suggests where Mike’s solo career is going, then good times are ahead, his confidence knows no bounds and he’s clearly enjoying his creative freedoms.
Alternative sounds, metal scope, mathy intensity and psychedelic bursts of colour are moulded into something mature and masterful, dripping with melody and gut-punch heaviosity. My boat is completely floated, it’s a long time overdue for this man’s talents to be more widely recognised.
01. Silhouette (4:29)
02. Super Sleuth (4:44)
03. Elemental (4:06)
04. Lancelot (4:37)
05. In the Dead, Dead Wood (3:06)
06. Weight In Gold (5:10)
07. Mourning on the Range (6:48)
08. Forc in the Road (12:37) (including hidden track Concierge)
Total Time – 45:37
Mike Vennart – Vocals, Guitars, Bass, Keyboards
Joe Lazarus – Drums
Charlie Barnes – Upright Piano
Ben Griffiths – Bass (tracks 1,2 & 6)
Richard “Gambler” Ingram – Additional Keyboards (tracks 2,4,7 & 8)
Record Label: Independent
Country of Origin: U.K.
Date of Release: 6th November 2020