"For Smog Fans" the sticker in the record shop said. That was enough to draw my interest. Then there is the artwork (courtesy of Iker Spozio) which is equally attention-grabbing - some where between Aubrey Beardsley and Art Deco. So with attention grabbed I gave this album, Long Distance Swimmer by Adrian Crowley a listen on Last.fm (the whole album can be streamed here). I was hooked before the first song (Bless Our Tiny Hearts) had even finished. This is a beautiful and beguiling record that is one of this year's very best.
On Long Distance Swimmer there are plenty of references to the sea (with song titles like These Icy Waters, Star of the Harbour, Brother at Sea) but rather than a chilly early morning dip this album is a cosy night in front of an open fire. The Smog comparison is right in some ways but another key reference point is James Yorkston - who also guests on the album. Adrian's songs move between a uptempo but restrained bluesy chug (like These Icy Waters) and then more sparse, intimate, folksy acoustic numbers (Temporary Residence). In either mode, Adrian's lyrics and rich, sonorous voice is softer and warmer than some of the distance and alienation you feel with Bill Callahan (although I would take bets you could put Leaving The Party on any recent Smog album and fans wouldn't bat an eyelid).
Adrian (Galway native, sometime Dublin resident, well-travelled - see his own biog here) recorded this album during 2006, released it in Ireland last year and then this January it came out in the UK. I recently met Mr MM in London and keen to impress each other with recent musical discoveries we both saved one album as our trump card. Yup, for both of us it was Long Distance Swimmer - he came across it as a 'can't fail' recommendation from a record shop in Paris.
Here's what the record label says:
Recorded at Crowley’s sister’s house in Dublin in just one week, whilst he was house sitting and looking after Rosy, her Dalmatian. Crowley removed most of the furniture and built a soundproof fortress of mattresses. Adrian – “The album was produced by the ever diligent Stephen Shannon. Steve set up microphones all over the house and we moved in for the week! We only had until my sister came back from holiday to put all the furniture back in its place and the mattresses back on the beds.” Over a period of one week Crowley was joined by friends and collaborators including Marja Tuhkanen (violin), James Yorkston (vocals, clarinet, concertina, guitar), Sinead Nic Gearailt (harp), Kate Ellis (cello) and Thomas Haugh aka 'Hulk' (drums). “All the vocals on the album were done in one or two takes at the house. Two more songs were recorded elsewhere and the whole album was finished off in Stephen Shannon's studio which he had just built in his back garden in Dublin.”
This is an absolute gem of an album which I would encourage you to spend some time with and get lost in its fragile charms. It was a shock to find out it is Adrian's FOURTH album. The earlier three were re-released by Fence Records but all appear to be sold out (check here).
And if you are in London this weekend Adrian is playing the Roundhouse on Saturday supported by Chris Garneau - tickets here. I look forward to hearing your reports.
BLESS OUR TINY HEARTS
THESE ICY WATERS
Long Distance Swimmer [BUY]