This is Irish musician Jim Griffin’s third solo album, after 2015’s The Ranger & The Cleric and 2017’s To A Far City, but this one shows a different side of Jim’s musical muse.
Where the previous releases took a lot from melodic folk and ethereal soundscapes, this one ups the ante somewhat with an array of vintage synths complementing Jim’s love of Blue Öyster Cult in a surreal and mysterious concept album, built on a fictional writer whose work was inspired by the socio-political and scientific developments of the period prior to the First World War. As Jim notes in the intriguing release that accompanies the album, a period that is usually – and unfairly – overshadowed by the murderous war years that followed it, now seen as inevitable but obviously not so at the time.
Opener Intercept A0 roars in on a blast of fuzzed guitar, a strident overture more akin to Jim’s work with Zombie Picnic than his solo releases, propulsive double tracking and quirky keyboard textures over a shuffling rhythm ushering in a heavier, acid-soaked universe. This is a spacey sci-fi opera, beamed into space from a past now out of reach, tantalisingly obscured through the prism of popular history, and bounced back from the stars as Jim blows cosmic dust off the lost Edwardian journals of Samuel Clarke Atwood. These recount “not only his revolutionary thoughts and experiments, but also the even stranger account of my mother’s life and her final disappearance”, as referenced from the 1938 memoirs of his son, My Father’s Journal and My Mother’s Journey: An account of the strange life of Samuel and Rhea Atwood.
It’s an intriguing premise that remains central yet elusive, making it even more interesting. Having mirrored this imagined early 20th Century world, it is an easy leap to add the sci-fi overtones and colours that make this a kind of futuristic album of the past. The sounds are often from times gone by, from our perspective, the 1970s rock era and the Golden Age of bands like BÖC with the then cutting edge musical technology of now archaic synths and other venerable keyboard instruments. God of Rage offers the first suggestions of this influence, a dreaminess reminiscent of BÖC’s lighter moments married with Pink Floyd atmospherics, Jim’s engaging voice and lyrical guitar adding to the feel. It grows more strident with the swelling of the Mellotron-esque Crumar Orchestrator, including some neat Wakeman flavoured soloing.
Vocally, Jim takes the lead, but there are particularly well-judged contributions from ex-BÖC man Joe Bouchard, adding a fine theatricality to his narration during Thought Experiment, and Evelyn Cosgrave, whose ethereal and mysterious poem Matter Anti-Matter is a perfect fit within the folk-trippy album highlight Spiral Staircase. The first of these tracks mixes ’60s cool with electronica in an enigmatic sci-fi scene setting that works a treat, atmospheric and wholly interesting, fizzing with energetic guitar and toe-tapping rhythms. The warming and optimistic Spiral Staircase is a gorgeous end to what is a fascinating album, with the integration of the familiar (to folk of a certain age) crackles of a jumping record, like wrinkles in the space-time continuum. The looped guitar picking to end is beautifully calming.
Elsewhere, The Burden of Knowing sets acoustic guitar with spacey keys, revealing more of the story in an easy flow that focuses on the narrative, Robbie Costelloe’s saxophone adding a jazzy swing. Of Atwood’s Machine sweeps by with soaring guitar and there’s the hint of a bluesy War of the Worlds about it. Jim’s voice is emotional amid a multitude of keyboard textures, lost in the stars. Our New World will Bathe in Ancient Light takes a chiming clock into a rhythmic pulse with elastic dub bassline, heading into Ozrics territory with the strident yet laid-back guitar solo.
Jim and his collaborators have succeeded in producing a captivating work that draws expansive, otherworldly spaciness and electronica together with familiar rock sounds. The Signal projects a strange and enigmatic mix of futurism and the archaic, Lovecraft and turn of the century mystery. Well worth your time.
01. Intercept A0 (3:22)
02. God of Rage (6:52)
03. Thought Experiment (7:15)
04. The Burden of Knowing (6:22)
05. Of Atwood’s Machine (5:18)
06. Our New World will Bathe in Ancient Light (4:19)
07. Spiral Staircase (7:53)
Total Time – 41:21
Jim Griffin – All Instruments & Vocals, except:
Joe Bouchard – Spoken Word (track 3)
PJ O’Connell – Lead Guitar (track 3)
Robbie Costelloe – Saxophone (track 4)
David Colohan – Sound Effects (track 4)
The Heartwood Institute – Sound Effects (tracks 4 & 5)
Grey Malkin – Sound Effects (tracks 4 & 5)
Robin Parmar – Sound Effects (track 4)
Tomás Mulcahy – Sound Effects (track 5)
Evelyn Cosgrave – Recitation of her Poem Matter Anti-Matter (track 7)
Record Label: Independent
Country of Origin: Republic of Ireland
Date of Release: 6th November 2020