It is not possible to be aware of everything going down in the wonderful world of niche music, even if you are part of (or incarcerated in, come to think of it!) a fine institution like TPA, where our metaphorical finger is not so much on the pulse as making random stabs into the murky waters to see what it can hook out of the sea of review PR flotsam and jetsam. Some really sparkly electric fish are simply destined to swim under the radar. Well, that’s my excuse, anyway. And so, continuing a trend for yours truly, stuck up here in Shoesville, and therefore well away from any scene that might be happening down thar in That London, an isolation magnified nowadays in the Plague Year, I first became aware of Cesarians about four weeks ago. This was courtesy once again of my mate Spike, who doesn’t so much as have his finger on the pulse, no, more like he is permanently immersed in a musical womb, the amniotic fluid of “new stuff” on a constant renew cycle. For this dedication to duty I and many others are no doubt truly grateful, and consequently lighter of wallet!
Cesarians are a band formed around Charlie Finke and Justine Armatage, both accomplished musicians with long pedigrees in writing, recording and performing. Charlie and Justine live together on a narrowboat somewhere on the canals of London Town. Charlie, it seems, spent his formative years in and around the aforementioned Shoesville (aka Northampton, UK), which may or may not explain Cesarians’ connection with the resurrected Glass Records, now known as Glass Modern, once and still the home of many a Northampton musical reprobate.
Rachel Frieda is the band’s third album, and it was released last September. It is named for a young lady who tragically died aged 16 in January 2017. Out of respect for those who suffered the loss, no speculation is going to be given here. From the band’s Facebook page: “Our album Rachel Frieda explores some of the challenges she was up against with her mental health and how it affected her family and friends. Now, more than ever we need to be looking out for and listening to young people.”
The cover of the album depicts a guardian angel watching over the silhouette of a little girl, a sombre image at odds with most of the music on the record, the exceptions being the opening and closing tracks, which seem to follow a process of mourning, eventually drawing hope from fatalism, and then escape. You can’t hold back the sea, but you can swim in it.
Beyond personal tragedy, and coping with its consequences, Rachel Frieda tackles societal divisions, environmentalism, headfuck trips, sexual identity, and more. The album is cocking a much needed snook at those odd folk who think lyrics are unimportant, as half of the impact of this massive construct is in dem wurdz, baby, O yes! It is not clear who writes the lyrics to which songs, as the credits simply read “All tracks written by Justine Armatage and Charlie Finke”. Suffice to say, there is real insight in these lines.
Nowhere more so that on the album centrepiece Death In London, a ten-minute triumph of urban poetry and BIG POP that rages against the skilfully propagated needless division that is currently everywhere you care to look on our un-sceptred isle – “And there’s death in London Town, And the country gets me down” – only to veer off into an impressionistic and surreal ending that sees the protagonist wanting to go back to the womb, and who can blame him/her?
It is easy to imagine Death In London as a lost Scott Walker epic, carelessly left on a studio shelf from the Scott 4 sessions. The wonderfully expansive arrangement, with the line-up (see end of review) in full-on chamber orchestra overload, il est magnifique!
Preceding Death In London is the helter-skelter madness of LSDeanna, on the surface a vivid portrayal of a trip, that always teeters on the edge of going baaad… but it doesn’t, it just falls and spins, and falls and spins, and falls and spins, with a breathless energy. “You’re going to like it when it fucks up”, because that’s all you can do, otherwise you’d cry. Ah… I get it now.
Cesarians describe themselves as “wrongrockoddpop”, which ties in nicely with my own description of what it appears is turning into my currently preferred musical place to be, the kaleidoscopic world of “wonky pop”. Cesarians inhabit an art-pop universe with Paddy McAloon and Billy Mackenzie, and very slightly more up to date, Goldfrapp, Bjork, etc… you get the picture. Indeed Going Blonde puts me in mind of Goldfrapp’s finest glam rackets.
Watching Charlie Finke, who I’m told is a captivating frontman, writhing around, emoting “I am a man, I am a woman. I am a who – who can” must be quite a sight, and is something I hope to do as soon as is possible! Who Who Can is the poptastic climax to the the album, replete with goofy “ooo-lalalalas” and the inevitable glam beat handclaps. It will leave you with a daft grin, or you’re not actually alive.
Rachel Frieda is a bold and ambitious album that pulls no punches, but it is also great fun. I read that it heralds a coming of age for Cesarians. Well, I’m a neophyte, I wouldn’t know… until I buy the previous two albums, that is. Once more… thanks, Spike!
01. Pig in the Mattress (5:11)
02. Antichrist (3:36)
03. LSDeanna (4:04)
04. Death in London (10:08)
05. Diesel (4:05)
06. Anything, Everything (3:31)
07. Going Blonde (4:47)
08. Who Who Can (4:19)
09. The Sea (4:02)
Total Time – 43:43
Ed Grimshaw – Drums & Percussion
Budge Magraw – Bass & Backing Vocals
Bev Crome – Vocals, Trumpet & French Horn
Christine Lehmann – Violin & Backing Vocals
Charlie Finke – Vocals
Justine Armatage – Piano, Nord, Cello (tracks 3 & 4), Backing Vocals
Fabio D’Agostino – Guitars, Synthesiser
Roger Crimlis – Guitar (tracks 2 & 8)
Kate Shortt – Cello (track 1)
Tomas Moreno – Acoustic Guitar (track 6)
Valentine Shewolf – Backing Vocals (track 9)
Record Label: Glass Modern
Country of Origin: U.K.
Date of Release: 18th September 2020