Tuesday 24 June 2014

Ruth writes about Constellations, by the Moulettes

Well, gosh. It’s a while since I wrote about music on here (with, I suppose, the exception of our own music). To be fair, rarely a day passes on twitter when I don’t squee over some musician or band or other, but on here it’s been a bit quiet. I’m not a music reviewer, you see, just a music fan who occasionally likes to go into more depth than “oh em gee this is the best album EVER”.

And it’s with that in mind that I feel I ought to say something about Constellations, the latest album by the Moulettes (is it “The Moulettes” or is it just “Moulettes”? I don’t know).

I found out about the Moulettes about two years ago, through a friend, and bought myself their eponymous album, which I lapped up, over and over again. I adored and still love that album. My son loves it too, and dances around the house with me to the strains of Going a Gathering. In fact, at Hallowe’en last year we played the album to a bunch of kids as background music to many of our activities and they loved it; it was spooky, and fun, and dancy. (Unfortunately, we then ramped up the scare factor with Penderecki’s Threnody for the victims of Hiroshima. It was a bit much for one girl who burst into tears and asked to go home. Needless to say, we turned it off pretty quickly.)

I was also lucky enough to see them live, last year, at the Just So Festival, and they were every bit as amazing as you’d expect… and then some.

But, as happens, life moves on, you discover other bands, and so it was that I never did get around to buying The Bear’s Revenge, or managing to catch them live again …

But I did follow them on twitter to keep up with what was going on (and they followed us back too which I thought was lovely. We’re a little unsigned acoustic duo who gig locally and have only just released our first studio single. They’re a massive band with accolades coming out of their ears … so yes, we were more than a bit chuffed by that) and it then happened that they released their album Constellations, and there seemed to be quite a bit of hype surrounding it. I added it to my mental wishlist, and as soon as we had a bit of dosh, I bought it from iTunes.

[One tiny, teeny thing here. I wish more bands would consider using Bandcamp to sell their music/merch. It’s not just for small outfits; the likes of Sufjan Stevens and Amanda Palmer use it; and it is fantastic because it enables fans to pay as much as they like to support the musicians they love, to buy a CD/record with access to the digital download immediately, and the ability to listen on their mobile device via the app, which bypasses iTunes. Not completely unlike Amazon, but some of us prefer to avoid Amazon where possible. Anyway, that’s just a musing, and not a criticism!]

And it is amazing. The first thing that struck me was the sheer craftsmanship (or perhaps “craftswomanship”) that had clearly gone into it. It is note perfect. Every sweep of the bow across the ‘cello, every toot on the bassoon, every delicious close harmony, every vocal trill, every bit of fingerwork across the harp (wonder if Emma fancies playing a wedding? We’re looking for a harpist…) and so on, and so on, was just perfect. Nothing out of place. The amount of work that has clearly gone into the arrangements (for example, on Between Two Mirrors, there’s a motif for various lyrics; the birds of paradise, the echoes, tokens left to find, chaos of the aftermath… think Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf and you wouldn’t be that far away) is astounding. The lyrics are intelligent and moving and fit perfectly with the music. And everything hangs together so exquisitely.

To pick standout tracks from something like this is difficult, but everyone has favourites and my top three tracks are:

So It Goes (the video for this is fabulous too). This is possibly the most “dance around the kitchen” song from the album. The sudden changes from minor to major and back again, the soaring strings, the way the song seems to echo the lyrics, with the “so it goes” part of the chorus feeling like a sauntering journey … oh it is perfect. And yes, I said I’d pick three songs, but I can’t talk about So It Goes without mentioning what I thought of as its companion song, Glorious Year, which has the lyric “all is far from being forsaken”, making it sound like someone trying to cheer and console a friend. If you’ve been feeling like things haven’t been going so well, listen to this. I felt like I’d had a little cry on the Moulettes’ combined shoulders, and come away feeling a lot better.

The Night is Young. A simple, beautiful, wistful waltz with piano and strings combining to make you feel like you’re at some outdoor afterparty in Vienna. And just when you think it’s finished, it hasn’t; it has to come to its sad, humming conclusion. (Actually I think one of the reasons I love this track so much is that I could imagine it appearing on an album by The Magic Theatre, and they’re my favourite band ever, so there’s that.)

And then. And then. There is Lady Vengeance. Imagine, if you will, “chamber music does dubstep”. Imagine “hell hath no fury”. Imagine an intricate arrangement but with huge sound, and more of those amazing musical motifs paired with the lyrics. Imagine a guest appearance by no other than Arthur Brown (yes, that Arthur Brown). Imagine a song that goes from sinister to terrifying by degrees. “I have met you before, but, I think this time you will remember.” Tell you what, I wouldn’t want to get on the wrong side of the Moulettes. There’s a suitably creepy video too. I know what the kids will be watching this hallowe’en. And if you buy the deluxe edition of the album like I did, you’ll also have access to the various remixes of this track, some of which are mind-blowing!

Every single track on this album is brilliant. If you like folk, if you like rock, if you like prog, if you like chamber music, if you like dubstep, if you like good music… you’ll love it.

As I said on twitter, the Moulettes are the kind of band, and Constellations the kind of album, that makes you think, “all other bands: stop now. We have a winner”. You can buy the album here.

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