Album reviewed by Gareth Stevens
I have to confess that Alt Psych is one of the few musical genres I have little experience or knowledge of. I took this assignment with a trepidation that instantly fell away when the professional duty of having to play the album over and over quickly morphed into a genuine compulsion to listen again.
Necessary Animals roar and whisper simultaneously. Their steady strength comes from their mission to experiment with contrasting yet ultimately complementary elements and the deep yearning, simultaneously melancholic and joyful, that saturates every track. Being at the same time profane and spiritual, the more you listen to it, the more you realise the epithet Alt Psych is both wretched and cursory. At times the unexpected musical sideswipes and production take your breath away, especially when interspersed with simpler ‘bedroom-recorded’ sounding sections. Ingvild Deila’s vocals equal that of the incorporeal soul of Karen Dalton’s and have that desolate northern european signature of writers like Hamsun, Ibsen and the saxophonist Jan Garbarek.
Keith Rodway, the Animals’ multi-instrumentalist, songwriter/composer and album’s co-producer values originality. He talks of his love of artists like Miles Davis, Beefheart, Can and says he has always loved music that had no obvious precedent. Another influence, which is writ large on several tracks, even includes the avant-garde Austro-Hungarian composer György Ligeti.
Rodway gives us this album by way of a 65th birthday present to himself and describes it as “a summation of 40 years of working one way or another in music, starting as a punk in Mark Perry’s The Good Missionaries, through classical (10 years at Glyndebourne Opera) 15 years doing dance music and folktronica and a life-long interest in roots reggae and the experimental. All this is put through the grinder and what comes out, comes out.”
Piano Thing has a stark and intense beauty that is unquestionable; it would move the hardest heart. Within its very fibres there are subtle yet shattering and unexpected compositional twists and turns. Whilst there is a seamless confluence of warp and weft within every track, with cinematic swirls combined with dub inflected squawks, Orange Juice guitar lines and trip-hop back beats, the album is a pizza, not a soup, each track standing out as different from the rest like pineapple to pepperoni on a Hawaiian.
Walking to Babylon brings together a strident late Zeppelin groove with occasional drum echo and a growling, insistent and distorted line from the bottom end manipulator. Then just when we thought our capacity for surprises was exhausted, in comes an overlay of the most haunting and ethereal vocals that flips the genre of the song onto a different, indefinable level.
Necessary Animals’ has achieved almost beyond the possible. They have supreme and wildly innovative approaches to composition, Rodway writes songs that would endure if only performed by acoustic guitar with voice and the album is a coherent symphony concocted from a fusion recipe that would look implausible on paper. I can’t overstate the extent to which this album succeeds.
Do yourself a favour and hunt this album down and gobble it up liked a munchied-up stoner and then make it part of your straight calorie controlled daily diet.
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