Most bands and artists have emerged from the pandemic with a Lockdown Album safely stored in their discography, and this is the estimable Emmett Elvin’s contribution to that off-kilter section of the filing cabinet of musical life. I mentioned in my brief summary of the good sounds I heard in 2022 that I had not listened to this album nearly enough. In putting that right it seems only just that such a singular artistic statement should get some due kudos, so here goes…
Emmett had spent the two years or so prior to COVID-19 making itself the thorough nuisance it turned out to be establishing a new life working in London and Moscow, writing music for theatre, and by all accounts having a blast, to the point of acquiring an apartment in Moscow. Then everything stopped. Forced to relocate back to London, our man who-was-in-Moscow “dug in” and “determined to pen a dozen new tunes”. You certainly needed a sound mind to cope with those and these times, and some deal with it better than others. Emmett seems to be one of those.
Dragging his muse protesting and biting and scratching to the keyboard, Emmett has put together a musical journey that takes us down byways less travelled, and gives us a thoroughly different experience. Following the instrumental introduction of Triumphum Super Malum, wherein Ruth Underwood’s marimba has taken squatter’s rights in Em’s joanna-circuitry, the first sighting of our hero’s glorious relationship with language arrives in the form of Come What May. Back in the 19th Century, our man who-was-in-Moscow could easily have had a career as a laudanum-fuelled poet careening around the arthouses of chic Euro-capitals, who would now be revered by all of us who like a bit of wordplay. This is the first verse of that song, and it just gets better thereon…
Colours fade, spirits cleaving
No more wishbone escapades
Come what may, this train’s leaving”
Everything about this album, right down to the enticing CD cover layout is effortlessly “art” without being pretentious in the slightest. Not to be outdone, a wonderfully unsettling video directed by Ashley Jones starring multiple penguin-suited Emmetts and an AI ice queen guitar hero accompanies the impressionistic Artificial Guitar, a song that seems to reveal a different meaning each time I read the lyric. Still… “And when she sings, Old England disappears”.
Eerie proclamations of drudgery on The Pinstripe Fiasco 2022 are given a good and righteous kicking by some frantic guitar and keyboard fisticuffs that serve to highlight the anxiety-fuckery that any of us who have ever been sucked into that soulless existence will recognise only too well. It’s not all doom and gloom, there are snatches of optimism to be found in both the music and the lyrics, if you have the right interpreter’s hat on. Although, the sight of an angry Ronald McDonald figure declaiming at the pulpit on the back cover is a tad alarming!
I want to know if the lips of Half or Full Machine Elf move. These are the important questions. X shows off Emmett’s classical piano skills to good effect, before the robots in the playpen mischief of Triumphum Super Mort sets us up for the lyrically bleak Faithless Star. A scything guitar figure cuts through End of Days, a nervous skitter that arrives at the relief of Olga Lisikova’s swooping vocal alchemy in a fraught state, only to be given succour by Olga’s vocal pirouette as it moves around the space with a lithe grace at odds with the lyrical psychodrama being played out. Mucho strangeitude ensues throughout Nought But Saviour’s Skull, a demented march that makes me think that this is what The Residents would sound like if they were actually, y’know… weird.
The sound of this album is just gawjus, and we can thank the knob-twiddling skills of Mark Cawthra for that. We have to thank Mr Elvin for having the strength of character to battle through the ennui-inducing stupor of the lockdown and its fallout to make this bloody fine musical statement, or, as he puts it, “With teeth bared and eyes crazed I summoned the will to plough mercilessly on”. It would be a crying shame if this album gets ignored for it is greatly deserving of your kind attention. See that thar bandcamp link below, and give it a go! You know you want to!
01. Triumphum Super Malum (3:16)
02. Come What May (5:40)
03. Always Off My Mind (1:12)
04. Artificial Guitar (3:52)
05. The Pinstripe Fiasco 2022 (5:28)
06. Half Machine Elf (4:41)
07. X (2:24)
08. Triumphum Super Mort (2:42)
09. Faithless Star (4:28)
10. Full Machine Elf (2:08)
11. End of Days (5:20)
12. Nought But Saviour’s Skull (6:47)
13. Being of Sound Mind (1:19)
14. End of Days (Tiny Reprise) (0:46)
Total Time – 50:33
Emmett Elvin – Acoustic, Electric & 12-string Guitars, Bass Guitar, Acoustic Piano, Rhodes, Twin Copicats, Nord Synthesiser, Vocals, Percussion, Yorkshire Tea Tin full of Spoons
Sarah Anderson – Violin, Viola, Texture
Alex Thomas – Drums & Percussion, Timing
Beverley Crome – French, Tenor & Baritone Horns
Sam Barton – Trumpet
Sharron Fortnam – Ethereal Vocals (on Come What May)
Olga Lisikova – Alchemical Vocalist (on End of Days)
Record Label: Bad Elephant Music
Country of Origin: U.K.
Date of Release: 18th November 2022