Monday, July 09, 2012
BLIND ATLAS Kodiak Bear
There are only eight species of bear in the world today, the Alaska-dwelling Kodiak bear being a sub-species of the Brown Bear. But whichever species or sub-species you may come across (on TV documentary rather than up-close-and-personal I hope) you know you are dealing with a member of the bear family. Blind Atlas offer a dozen songs with a fair degree of variety on their self-released debut album but all are recognisably members of the broad Americana family –mid-tempo country-rock (‘For Carol’), bluegrass duet (‘The Ballad of Uncertainty In The Key Of F’), even 70s dirty-blues boogaloo (‘Fourth Street’), all shot through with resignation and heartbreak.
The twelve songs of their ‘Mancunian-Americana’ here are all originals but four have been previously released on singles (and I’ve heard some live as far back as 2008/9 including this one I caught live in 2010). So there’s a high degree of familiarity as well as the recognisable conventions of the genre(s). But Blind Atlas possess a steely, timeless conviction in their delivery– which is less about attaining ‘authenticity’, more about a meticulous, heartfelt mining of emotions. And this is what makes this album such a success, even if a mournful one at times, and best taken with a bottle of whisky close by.
Many words have been written describing the decade-spanning reference points for Blind Atlas (“think Ryan Adams fronting The Black Keys, or perhaps Fleet Foxes with a Led Zeppelin fixation...” ) plus in their 2010 interview on these pages the band members revealed even more diverse musical inspirations including Calexico, Stravinsky and Radiohead. Despite this and some of the variety listed in the songs in the opening paragraph and in the strange, primal pounding of ‘Ironwall’, the majority of songs operate in a mid-tempo, maudlin gear. One of the stand-out newer (to me) songs ‘Damned Words’ is as personal and as wretched as anything the band have written. Everything aches beautifully – Ross Thompson’s nearly-cracking vocals, the golden steel guitar, the faint distant hum of organ, the slow elegiac viola. ‘Brother Moon’ is more steely and mysterious, a mantra-like chorus that is more ambivalent than the casual greeting appears written down (“hello Brother Moon”) with passages of searing electric guitar and organ.
Music like this may not be as endangered or as in short supply as Alaskan bears but as with those creatures there’s something regal, proud and powerful about Blind Atlas’s music. A long-player that has been a long time coming but now it’s here it is one to savour. Preferably with a strong drink in hand to console a heavy heart.
Blind Atlas Kodiak Bear [BUY]