Thursday, May 14, 2015

'Once More From the Top' Brilliant Chamber Pop

Every so often an album comes along that feels like a momentous achievement. You know, not the usual formula of a standout single or two (if you're lucky) tucked within a ton of filler. I'm talking about an album where every note and syllable matters and, in the end, it all adds up to a single crowning statement. The last time I had such a feeling was upon my first listen to 'One Day I'm Going to Soar' from Dexys, and that was way back in 2012, but the drought has ended in a flood of exquisite chamber pop.

The Granite Shore are a supergroup, at least in my world, led by Occultation Records' head honcho Nick Halliwell and other members of the Distractions, as well as my hero, Phil Wilson of the June Brides, Martin Bramah of the Fall and multi-instrumentalist Probyn Gregory, best known for his work in Brian Wilson's extraordinary band. 'Once More From the Top' is a concept album about an imagined band. Side one is called "In Public," and Side two is about what happens with the group "Behind the Scenes." The two sides are anchored in the middle by "Backstage at the Ballroom," and in a particularly poignant moment, the band sings in unison, "You know all the words, at least you used to, you know how it goes, we wrote this for you." There are many moments like this one where you can picture the piece being performed on stage in a particularly theatrical way.... much like Dexys did. In fact, the album includes a 32-page two-act play, penned by Halliwell himself, about the fictional band reuniting for new music and a performance. It's a wonderful companion piece while listening and another shining example of why this project is something special.

Occulation is offering 'Once More From the Top' in a variety of editions. I decided to spring for the Catalogue Standard LP edition that included the band's prior releases (7", split 7" and 10" singles) along with the new album. The package comes with mp3s that are available immediately after purchase, and it was nice to listen to them as I waited a week for the album to come from the UK. Of course, when you put on the album for the first time, it's like transitioning from a transistor radio to a high-end stereo. The richness of Gregory's horns and Halliwell's keyboards and voice really come to life. Like most master storytellers, his delivery is warm and laid back. You feel like Halliwell is in the room talking to you.

The music isn't all that has me in awe. You can tell every detail of this project was a labor of love, from the grade of paper used for the sleeve to the laminated finish used on the artwork. It's tough to imagine I will see or hear a better album this year, but you should judge for yourselves. To pick a few songs for you to sample is just plain wrong. This is an album meant to be experienced from beginning to end, but how else can I persuade you? Please give these three from side one a listen.


The Swede said...

This is interesting. Completely unknown to me, but I'm intrigued and will be heading over to their Bandcamp page to check out the whole thing after leaving this comment. Bonus points to the band for including Norwich and Ipswich in the lyrics of 'Nine Days Wonder', not names that roll off the tongue easily at the best of times and two areas of the country that I know very well indeed.

friend of rachel worth said...

New to me as well , just ordered a copy

Unknown said...

This project is definitely worth getting ahold of. I've been listening non-stop for weeks. I can't imagine anything better will come out this year either.

The Swede said...

I was halfway through track 3 when I realised that I had to own it. There was one limited edition LP left in stock, it was a sign! Looking forward to receiving it next week. Thanks for the intro, I wouldn't have found it otherwise.
(By the way, did you pick up 'Broken Heart Surgery' by Pete Fij & Terry Bickers last year? One of my favourites of 2014 and right up your street I reckon.)

friend of rachel worth said...

That is what frustrates me about blogging and record companies - you only hear the negative stuff from record companies about killing music (remember when home taping was meant to cause musical genocide). 1 post and at lease 2 sales!

Brian said...

First off, a hearty hello and welcome to Steven.

Mr. Swede, You just returned the favor in a big way. No, I had not heard Broken Heart Surgery, but I have been listening to Out of Time, Downsizing and Betty Ford all morning, and the videos Pete put together for these songs are fascinating. Funny how these records can pass us by. I should have heard it because of previous bands, relatives of the artists and several other "ins," but I missed it. At any rate, the album is on its way. You had me pegged.

FORW, You said it, brother. The big boys often also miss the love and care needed to pull off a project too. As you will see, Nick Halliwell and his people did such a nice job putting all aspects of this album together. Meanwhile, OMD's Junk Culture and Simple Minds' Sparkle in the Rain reissues are riddled with errors as the labels clumsily attempt to cash in. All around, indies are much better getting it. So glad you like this one. These two sales really warm the cockles of my heart.

Occultation Recordings said...

First thanks for the kind comments. A huge amount of work goes into all our releases but this one was always conceived as an overall project and about more than just the music, however crucial that is.
We do actually have a few more of the Deluxe edition left as we've found a few extra components, but it really is only a very small number as these've proved very popular. These Deluxe editions are only available from us.
Of course, from a "business" point of view this is ludicrous. The album was recorded quickly so fairly cheaply and actually we spent more on the sleeve than on anything else. Then we added a 32-page booklet (that cost almost as much as recording) at no extra cost to purchasers. Hmm. Never quite got the hang of capitalism, did we?
Anyway, thanks for buying direct, this is the only way we can keep going.

The Swede said...

My deluxe edition arrived yesterday. I'm absolutely delighted with it. I can't imagine I'll receive anything lovelier through the post this year.

Brian said...

Thanks for taking the time for a little insight. As you can see, we are all very happy your hard work on every aspect of the album is being noticed.