24 October 2015

John Grant - Grey Tickles, Black Pressure

During a recent conversation at work (real work, not this wonderful place) I was mentioning that I was thinking of reviewing this album by John Grant, to which another colleague pipped up with a comment along the lines of 'what, an album from the bloke downstairs'; this lead to me trying to explain that John Grant was not the man who works in a provincial building in the North East of England, but a musician from Buchanan, Michigan who used to be a member of an act called Czars and they were very popular in the late 1990's/early 2000's.  He has also sang with Hercules & the Love Affair, released an album with Midlake as his backing band and performed with the brilliant Royal Northern Sinfonia.  Now I have not experienced any of John Grant's solo work that I know of, even with various recommendations from friends and on emails as well.  It is not due to the fact that I am averse to the thought of listening to John Grant, just the usual amount of albums I have to get through has stopped me.  Anyway, I have always been interested and with his new album out I have finally got the opportunity to listen to him.  The cover of this album is pretty messed up, those eyes are well spooky.  So let us see how 'Grey Tickles, Black Pressure' has turned out....

The introduction is a spoken word piece in English and (I am guessing) a Nordic language (anything I guess will offend someone, but as he has spent time in Iceland - I take a guess at Icelandic), all looped into each other with various noises and sounds making a disturbing sound that swamps the audience, smothers them and builds into high pitch tone and finally into the title track “Grey Tickles, Black Pressure” which speaks of disillusion with the modern world.  This song took my breath away with its black heart, beautiful scorn and stunning music.  It feels like I am listening to a modern classic before it has been laden with the term.  It feels as if the bleak tone and weary outlook at this Deity-less land makes you question your perceptions of the world and how we interact with the world.  You can feel anger, betrayal and disbelief at the world when innocence can be killed and evil lives on – also any song that mentions the cult film ‘Scanners’ is a winner for me.  With a Bowie-Chameleon turn, “Snug Slacks” with a song about beauty and sexuality, the lyrics about carpet burns, GG Allan, man-hoods, cute arses and Angie Dickinson is so tongue in cheek (and probably various other places as well) that it could either go way over people’s head or start a parental campaign against modern music on its own – either way it is fantastic with its electronica feels and distinct bass sound.  “Guess How I Know” is a disturbing number that keeps on the constantly changing feeling of this album with an intense riff at the heart of the chorus, the lyrical equivalent of a black out surrounded by zombie when the torch goes out and a song that feels like brooding anger incarnate.  It feels like John Grant is unhinged at this point and not giving a fuck, I like it when music sounds this insane – it makes the world an interesting place.  The next song features the vocal talent of Amanda Palmer and is called “You and Him” and the scorn is took to a new high.  I would love to know who the song was wrote about, as they have been recommended to have Hitler & Pol Pot as friends.  It is a stinging attack on someone that sounds like it have been around for year and is still fresh as the preverbal daisy.  I will be honest, I would not have known it was Ms Palmer on the record as she is not singing in her normal tone and Mr Grant’s vocals are louder – this is fine as it is his tune, but she is a bit quite in the mix, but this is a small thing to me and not something that would detract anything from this scornful song.

“Down Here” takes things back a touch musically; it is not as powerful as the earlier songs which is a sign that Mr Grant has an eye for the longevity of the record, it is not being top loaded from the start.  This song about wanting something better and not being in control of the situation might take the noise down a touch, but it does not take the quality down at all – if anything it has such an intense feeling to the lyrics and the music sways as if it is caught in the wind, you cannot help but be impressed by this majestic number.  With strange synth sounds “Voodoo Doll” starts with a lament of depression and finding belief in someone as they are helped via a voodoo doll made by the singer; the song is influenced heavily by 1980’s music and it feels like a touching song for a friend (or themselves), trying to help them through those dark periods of life.  It is a song that I struggle to connect with musically to be honest, the sentiment behind the song is beautiful and beyond reproach but the music does not do those lyrics justice for me.  But it is still better than a lot of music I have heard this year, so there is hope for it yet.  “Global Warming” is next and we are once again lamenting the state of the world, everything is going to shit and we might as well sink into the ground already as the rest of the world goes to hell.  I love the lyrical content here as it point the light on how the world is full of imperfections and hypocrisy for anyone to see.  The term global warming is both used in the correct term and as a metaphor for people’s meltdowns and issues, it is also a barbed laced condemnation of the modern world and first world problems.  Musically it sounds down trodden with a hint of burnt outshine to the music as well, it has all the strange beauty of a broken mirror with the ability to make you shiver.  The next song is steeped in darkness, shrouded in layers and devoid of pity.  "Magma Arrives" is the tale of retribution and nightmares, the destruction of a hero from the inside and the aftermath of the event is all told against a dramatic and haunting piece of music that will bewitch and charm the demons out of the ground.  The slow pace of the song suits the mood so well here, it really does take the audience to a dark place and then leaves them to deal with their issues afterwards.

"Black Blizzard" has an industrial feeling to the sound in places; it is a strange song to say the least, sounding like Gary Numan and Nine Inch Nails finally got together and just laid out all their passions to create on intense experience.  The lyrics are cryptic once more with horrific imagery used to disguise the true meaning of the words, further laying weight to the dark imagery of the music.  It is an interest number, not one of my favourite from the album but certainly one that improves with subsequent listens.  Featuring vocals from Tracey Thorn from Everything but the Girl, "Disappointing" is not as the title might suggest a disappointment - but it is not an immediate song.  It takes real investment to appreciate the song and it is worth the effort as it give more with each listen; you hear the music in a different each time, the lyrics give more with each rendition of the song and it is one of those song for which the word grower was created.  It matures in front of you and it never stops giving - one of the highlights of the second half of the album as we head towards the end.  The penultimate track of the main songs is called "No More Tangles" which is a mixture of synths and orchestra string that is grabs the listener straight away, it does not move at a fast pace or explode - but once you hear it, you just want to repeat the experience again and again. As the song slowly develops, those hooks since in further and all you want to do is let the song flow over you so you can be submerged in a song that could have done a better job of being the latest James Bond theme than the one released by Sam Smith.  It is part Scott Walker, Part David Bowie – all John Grant and it is a genius number.  The last full track is called “Geraldine” and it is another number that feels as if it is coming from a dark moment of the soul, with its emotive soul on display as it withers and twists for our entertainment.  At first I was not too sure if it should have been switched with “No More Tangles” to end the album, but the ordering is actually spot on and makes so much sense when viewed as a whole.  The vocals are assisted by another soul searching piece of music for the lost to find their new miserable experience and for the light hearted to feel reflected when the world goes a bit shitty, which leads naturally onto “Outro” which is a child reading the same poem of “Intro” and it brings the album to a beautiful conclusion.

I am now questioning why I have not listened to John Grant before this album; it is obviously one of those decisions that I made at the time due to the sheer amount of work I review and I should have went in a different direction.  This is stunning and has knocked me for six in places, John Grant’s vocals are so rich that I am sure that in some places in this world they can be used as currency, the music is incredible and apart from “Voodoo Doll” there is not a moment on here that I would gladly listen to for the rest of my days on this mortal coil.  He is a stunning combination of a few of my favourite solo artists with a shit load of originality, you can name any singer since the seventies and there is a good argument to why he is superior and it would start with this album. If you are looking for a new friend when you are feeling down, I would actually listen to this as it shows that you are not alone; never have misery sounded so triumphant.  Also, not to be confused with a man working in the North East of England.

9.5 out of ten – Almost perfect, almost……

Top track – No More Tangles 

You can purchase Grey Tickles, Black Pressure from Amazon here

You can visit the John Grant website here

You can follow the activities of John Grant on Facebook here

You can stream Grey Tickles, Black Pressure on Spotify here

You can stream Grey Tickles, Black Pressure on Deezer here

You can stream Grey Tickles, Black Pressure on Tidal here

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