How to deal with severe trauma – all dressed up in a warm acoustic folk cocoon from Cardiff’s Quiet Marauder
Release Date: 9th April 2021
Label: Bubblewrap Collective
Formats: Purple marble 180gm Vinyl / Digital
Welcome to the fourth album from Cardiff’s leftfield collective, Quiet Marauder. They’re a band with an impressive track record in the unconventional and unexpected. Previous accomplishments include a concept EP that reimagines Alan Shearer as a time traveller-cum-deity, a 111-track 4CD debut album and a song that ponders the loneliness of love in a Portaloo… If you’re looking for imagination and eclecticism, these guys are off the scale!
Based around the songwriting partnership of Simon M Read and Jonathan Day, Quiet Marauder supplement their line-up to suit the mood and requirements of the project at hand. For the purpose of The Gift, Simon and Jonathan have enlisted the services of their friends and collaborators Jake Nicholl (flute, piano and organ), Darren Browne (electric guitar and bouzouki) and Ariel Sharratt (bass clarinet) from Canadian counterparts, The Burning Hell. In what can only be described as a move of sheer inspiration, the vocal talents of Kadesha Drija to take the lead vocal role on this disturbing, sinister, darkly humourous and, ultimately, reassuring album.
The Gift is Quiet Marauder’s fourth album, their first since the equally fascinating concept piece, The Crack And What It Meant from 2019. Recorded pre-pandemic in an Italian villa, using The Burning Hell’s pop-up Snowbird Studio, it’s quite a departure from the band’s normal Bonzo/Half Man Half Biscuit/Syd Barrett-inspired fare. It deals with multiple emotional traumas, self-identity and the fallibility of human recall. The disturbing story is lovingly wrapped in a cocoon of warming, occasionally jaunty, soft acoustic folk, full of strummed acoustic guitars and gently embellished with flourishes of flute, woodwind and piano.
The Gift tells the story of Willow, a troubled teenage girl (played by Kadesha Drija) who is haunted by visions of a mysterious house fire in which she believes she lost her parents, her brother and the family pets. The songs trace her life and the associated traumas. These include obsessive recall of the fire and its effects, conflicts with well-meaning foster parents, isolation and exclusion at school, the development of a tumultuous teenage love interest, an assumption of super-powers, an obsessive distrust of domestic appliances, overwhelming feelings of guilt and the fallibility of human recall.
Ultimately, Willow is able to confront her visions and obsessions to realise that the fire, and her recollections of it, have been literally and metaphorically extinguished. It’s a powerful story that draws the listener fully and intently into its folds. I actually found myself following the story with the same level of attention that I normally reserve for the Sunday evening murder dramas on BBC1!
And throughout, the music is deceptively pleasant. Priority is rightly given to the lyrics, which are delivered with genuine expression and passion by Kadesha – and she has a beautiful voice. The staple backing is strummed acoustic guitars and the other instruments – I was particularly struck by the flutes and the bass clarinet – are used to tastefully embellish and emphasise the narrative. In a couple of rare departures from this formula, the band gets almost funky on No Friends Just Visions, and head into territory that is a cross between mid-sixties soul and Cliff Richard’s Summer Holiday on Let’s Run through the Flames Together where a combination of tune and subject matter really emphasizes the extreme juxtapositioning that is a feature of this album.
The Half Man Half Biscuit influence is perhaps most evident in the song lyrics. Read and Day are clearly supremely gifted in this respect, and no punches are pulled in their intent to get the messages over. In My New Foster Parents, Willow describes her parents and her foster situation with phrases like “Solid, well meaning, liberal leaning… Too kind for your own good,” and “I’m not yours, you’re not mine, and so it happens every time,” and her ostracism at school is expressed in statements that include “Sitting on your own in a full canteen is worse than being alone in geography,” “I feature high on the rumour mill” and “If you say I’m trouble, that’s what I’m gonna be.” See what I mean? Powerful stuff, isn’t it? And those are just a few of the milder examples – the sinister-dressed-in-60’s-pop Let’s Run Through The Flames Together contains the macabre line “My skin might peel off, my flesh might roast, but we just might smother the source.” Blimey!
The Gift is a well-sequenced album and the gist of the story is very easy to follow, yet there are lots of hidden details that make repeated listenings a rewarding experience. For instance, the destiny of Willow’s ‘love interest’ is left hanging, leaving the listener to ponder his destiny. Perhaps another story in its own right. Willow’s concerns about the safety of domestic appliances such as toasters, boilers, vacuum cleaners, tumble driers and microwaves are expressed in a humorous way, but you’re left to surmise whether any of these played a role in starting the fire and, at the story’s end, I was even left wondering whether the fire actually happened, as Willow confronts her visions and concludes that the fire, her ‘memories’ of it, and the traumas those memories caused, are all extinguished.
The Gift is a deeply affecting album that entertains and provokes thought in equal measures. It’s an album that I thoroughly enjoyed and I will, without doubt, be following its progress, and the future exploits of Quiet Marauder, with great interest.
By the way, it isn’t just the music that’s a bit of a treat. The vinyl album comes on a heavyweight 180gm, purple marble disc, adorned within bespoke Sims-based artwork designed by Carlota Nobrega. Each vinyl album comes with a fold-out lyric sheet and a sew-on ‘house fire’ patch. How can you miss?
Listen to Will I Remember To Remember – the first single from the album (out now) – here: