Release Date: 25th November 2019
Formats: CD, DL
Channeling some fascinating songs from the Victorian era, Harp & A Monkey follow up War Stories with another fine collection of engaging tales.
By now we’re possibly getting used to their innovative approach of infusing their folk roots with an electronic seam; one that started back in 2008 with all three members making the bold move in picking up new instruments rather than their familiar ones and swearing their allegiance to ‘sounding British’ and relentless gigging.
The tagline to the new music is all about what a 150-year old pop song might sound like and finds their fourth album, one which has gestated over three years, packed with the typically weird and wonderful. The Victorians is no place for the trite and mundane.
While the graft has taken place mainly in the customary home studio in North Manchester, the music has been honed by Stormzy engineer Darren Jones with contributions to the special edition of the album from Bracketpress’ Christian Brett and Alice Smith and Chumbawumba’s Boff Whalley.
However, despite the big-name support, it’s down to the three amigos to work their magic; to craft and remain true to the philosophy of Harp & A Monkey. While the jollity and bright musical palette of the title track, The Calico Printer’s Clerk and Ten Shilling Wife (the latter’s potentially shocking, pre-pc subject matter of wife auctions belying a tale which has a happy ending) stand proud on first listening, there’s a typically Victorian sobriety about much of the record.
The stark and sparse arrangements are often guided by the percussive plunk of the banjo and a complementary hypnotic sway that some (of a certain age) might liken to a soundtrack to Chigley, Camberwick Green or Oliver Postgate series. The thread maintains an innocent charm for which the Victorian era is a perfect setting. The perfect soundtrack to accompany one of Terry Deary’s Vile and Villainous Victorians Horrible Histories.
There’s also a running theme that utilizes the Harry Boardman philosophy to the evolution of song – “abridgement, adaption, alteration and complete rewriting” matched by the insect motif of the album art that throws up memories of The Silence Of The Lambs in a strange kaleidoscope of ever-changing images.
Through the contrast of the traditional and contemporary, the organic and rustic and the electronic, this is evocative and mesmerizing musical storytelling as it should be done.
Listen to The Calico Printer’s Clerk from the album here: