Noise Annoys: Malojian's new album reviewed, Grant Hart remembered
This week, Noise Annoys reviews Malojian's new album and pays tribute to a deceased musical legend
HOW many times have I already reminded you all about the imminent Malojian album launch at The Portico of Ards in Portaferry ?
I've lost count to be honest (I think it's at least three), but since the show in question is now actually upon us, let's consider this your final refresher: tomorrow night, Stevie Scullion and band will herald the arrival of the latest Malojian long player Let Your Weirdness Carry You Home with this special intimate gig on the Ards peninsula, complete with Digital Film Archive-derived visuals courtesy of regular Malojian collaborator Colm Laverty.
Indeed, this week has already seen the release of the second Laverty-helmed music video for the album: Ambulance Song features a groovy collage of 1950s archival footage and kaleidoscopically-enhanced shots of Stevie doing his thing.
It's one of four numbers on Weirdness featuring the bass playing of Teenage Fanclub man Gerry Love, who also adds some complimentary background vocals.
A woozy, 60s-esque psyche-pop ode to a suicidal love that's as chilled-out as it is catchy, which is to say 'very', the strings and harmonica-enhanced Ambulance Song is definitely a stand-out song on the new album.
Let Your Weirdness Carry You Home is not officially released until October 6, but since pre-order copies of the CD and limited edition vinyl versions will be getting posted out to early adopters any day now (and there's still time to become one of the cool kids at Malojian.bandcamp.com) and it will be on sale at tomorrow's gig, it seems only appropriate to offer my assessment of the record now.
Not many fans were expecting another Malojian record so soon after last year's excellent This Is Nowhere: in fact, the story goes that Mr Scullion didn't really intend to make another LP straight away either – until NI Screen's offer of a coastal gig incorporating vintage visuals from the Digital Film Archive fired up his imagination and led to a bunch of new tunes being demoed.
Partially recorded in a lighthouse on Rathlin and mastered at Malojian musical touchstone Abbey Road, this self-produced affair features musical guests including the aformentioned Gerry Love, celebrity drummer for hire Joey Waronker and legendary NI jazz horn man Linley Hamilton.
Weirdness definitely has its own distinct vibe. Mind you, every album Malojian have made so far has also been a world until itself, so that's nothing new.
This one has a kind of dreamy, end of the summer sunset feel to it –ideal September listening, then. On the whole, it's a warm and welcoming experience, yet tinged with the nostalgia that comes with living in uncertain times.
Things never get too angsty, though: cello-laced weepie Purity of Your Smile is an unabashed father-to-daughter ballad in which Stevie advises his angelic offspring that "all I know is that you're never ever going to be nothing like me, if I can help it" – which is kind of funny, when you think about it.
Maybe Loudon Wainwright should have been writing stuff like this for his kids rather than the likes of I'd Rather Be Lonely and Rufus Is A Tit Man.
Elsewhere, the majestic slowie Beard Song begins with just piano and vocals. "Just because you grow a beard, it doesn't make you cool / anyone can do it, there's really nothing to it, you fool," coos Stevie – words to live by, readers – before Linley Hamilton drops a stunning flugelhorn solo and the drums and double bass (courtesy of Jon Thorne) arrive to join the party.
Another stand-out is the beautiful melancholy of hushed album centrepiece Damp (a co-write with Arborist man Mark McCabridge, who adds backing vox here and elsewhere on the record), which rides in gently on finger-picked chords that slide up against backwards guitar, mournful strings (violin by Rachael Boyd, Laura McFadden on cello) and Stevie's tuneful upper range singing before it all melts away into a short playful piano-based and cello-bolstered instrumental interlude, Broken Light Company (Theme).
Other top tunes like A New Armageddon, Battery – not a cover of the Metallica headbanger, you won't be surprised to learn – and Hanging On The Glow run the gamut from moody Fender Rhodes-driven musings on lost innocence in a post-Trump era through motorik country-tinged krautrock (think the A3, not the autobahn) with a lullaby kicker to slow dance-friendly strings 'n' acoustics balladry.
There are some great lines on this album; "Burning cars and dirty rain linger on my skin," complains Stevie on Hanging on The Glow; "There's a bunker for sale up the road, we can share all the nuclear load", he suggests on A New Armageddon.
The archival samples of RP speech, echoey, feedbacking guitars and driving beat of Some New Bones combine with beautiful string-work and a typically strong Malojian main melody to create a memorable album opener – but he saves the best for last.
The album's rousing title track also forms its epic five minute finale. It sounds like Ash covering Teenage Fanclub (indeed, this is another of the Gerry Love-powered tunes) and benefits from a great fuzzy guitar sound that contrasts nicely with Stevie's soothing croon.
Four albums into his post-Cat Malojian solo career, the Stevie Scullion has now firmly established himself as a musical force to be reckoned with.
Let's all hope he stays weird for as long as possible.
In addition to tomorrow night's album launch, where albums will be on sale, Malojian also have a Belfast show lined up for closer to the actual release date on October 19 at The Strand Arts Centre, while anyone reading this in the vicinity of Waterford can see the band in action tonight at Phil Grimes – though tickets are almost all gone, so move quickly.
In other, tragic news, Husker Du drummer, singer and songwriter Grant Hart died yesterday. He was 56 and had apparently been ill for some time.
Husker Du are one of my favourite bands, and some of my favourite Husker Du songs were written by Grant.
Although he often gets overlooked because of frontman Bob Mould's subsequent higher profile successes with Sugar and as a solo artist, Grant's work in Husker Du was second to none and his post-Du career with Nova Mob and under his own name is also studded with brilliant songwriting.
I was too young to see the Huskers, but I'm so glad now that I got to see Grant play live in Dublin and Belfast a few years ago – I even had the privilege of interviewing him on the phone to help plug the latter, and he could not have been nicer.
Indeed, we chatted for so long about music and his family that the tape ran out long before we hung up.
I'll be playing Grant's music as loudly as possible this weekend by way of a tribute – you should do the same.