Thursday, December 23, 2010


With a name conjuring up US Depression-era mutual banks, this Scottish duo actually trade in a different kind of depression and austerity. “Today I Need Light”, the debut album from The Savings and Loan, is nine tracks of sparse but richly gothic chamber-folk that calls to mind the dark ruminations of Willard Grant Conspiracy’s Robert Fisher. The set- up of singer-songwriter Martin Donnelly and multi-instrumentalist Andrew Bush supported by a changing cast of players on brass, strings and pedal steel mimics the loose nature and sound of the Boston-born collective . However The Savings and Loan describe their songs as “resolutely Glaswegian, touched as they are by that city's twin obsessions of drink and religion”.

Donnelly’s voice is less doom-laden and gruff than Fisher’s but many lyrical motifs are familiar: storms and trials, sundowns and sunrises, bibles and angels. It’s elemental and foreboding and it-ain’t going-to-work-out-fine stuff imbued with a powerful sense of the travails of simply getting through life – sample lyric “A career in concealment awaits me / if I make it back through this drudgery and trouble / I’m broken with love and splintered within” (‘Lit Out’).

And to continue the parallels the chorused refrain of “I know we’ve both got work to do” over mournful violin and solitary sad trumpet on ‘Her Window’ is not only hair-raisingly spooky but spookily akin to Willard Grant Conspiracy’s ‘The Work Song’. Fortuntately there are also plenty of departures and points of differences. ‘Pale Water’ is a quietly intense Cohen-esque croon. Following a spoken word intro from poet Tom Leonard, ‘Catholic Boys in the Rain’ has the moody down-at-heel introspection and self-doubt of The National. And ‘The Star of the County Down’ is Irish folk narrative slowed down to funeral march pace, like a Dubliners single played at a morose 16rpm.

“Today I Need Light” traverses similar territories to the “ecclesiastical Dunfermline music” of The Scottish Enlightenment (and compare the two album cover images – tortured saints are so in) but has an assured identity and aesthetic of its own, despite my continued WGC references. Did I say austerity? Six careful years of writing and making has delivered a richly poetic and darkly engaging album which also has something very luxurious and very generous about it too.

The Savings and Loan
Today I Need Light [BUY]

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