Wednesday, May 04, 2011

AWESOME WELLS "Carry On Awesome Wells"

The second album from the man known to the UK Passport Agency as Jonathan Palmer continues the trend of filmic adventure titles: first “The Highs and Lows of De Witt A Stanton” and now “Carry On Awesome Wells” (released last week on Red Deer Club). In this latest instalment our intrepid explorer has been picking up more stamps in his passport: “music and words written in Rangoon/Yangon, Mawlamyine/Moulmein and Steyning”. (I even had to Google Steyning: it’s in the South Downs where this album, along with Brighton, was recorded). It’s a nine track album – or a seven track one with two bonus cuts (more on this later). And my copy has a tenth track “Stickleback, recorded live in a field, October 7th 2010”. Which is ironic because the rest of the album has a dappled light and airy, outdoors feel, you’d swear it was all recorded in a field - but in the balmy summer months rather than crisp autumn.

Opener ‘Luchadora’ leaves our hero infatuated and bandy-legged-in-love (“Jesus Christ that smile”) and its gentle percussive clatter and mellifluous vocal harmonies remind you of an anglicised Panda Bear. Second track ‘BEARS’ is so laid-back and loose it sounds deceptively simple but is actually densely layered, its laconic brass and meandering bonhomie recalling Zach Condon’s Beirut - the Mexican sojourns rather than the East European ones. These two musical references collide in other tracks: the lolloping rhythms and soothing tuba of the more emphatic ‘Stickleback’, the South American horn quaver of ‘You’re Flogging A Dead Horse, Jon’ or the chiming ‘Norman’, all topped off with double-tracked vocals. Running the tags on the Awesome Wells Bandcamp page together gives you an alternative but accurate summary of what to expect: “brass band freak-folk loop music musique concrete”.

Not quite full-blown musique concrete, the minimal vocal loops and piano scales of ‘Sunday Evening’ and brass pulses and steel drum shimmer of ‘Mawlaymine’ provide the (largely) instrumental and quite blissful drifting interludes. 'Baby-boy' (one of the bonus tracks) is a quirky joy: strange, slowed-down vocals over shuffling drum pattern and tremeloed guitar, it should be quite sinister but feels more woozy with cider (to borrow a song title) than weird and creepy. Despite this minor difference in tone, it is a mystery to me why these are classed as bonus tracks, as they feel a good fit with the rest of the album. Late-in-the-day additions or is some strange internal logic at play I cannot divine?

“Carry on Awesome Wells” is a delightfully clever collection of postcards from exotic (even quixotic?) locations all neatly packaged in a single photo album. You never see the man himself in any detail which is a shame but his picture selection is excellent. The record’s instrumentation may include “a mandolin brought from a fortune teller just outside of Mandalay” but the whole feels as gracefully undulating and as reassuring familiar as the Sussex South Downs bathed in glorious, warm sunlight.

Awesome Wells Carry On Awesome Wells [BUY]

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