MF Tomlinson – Strange Time: Album Review

Languid portraits of a world in turmoil from MF Tomlinson

Release Date:  9th April 2021

Label: Self Release

Formats: Limited Edition vinyl / Digital

It’s a well-known fact that some of us have handled lockdown better and more constructively than others.  On the evidence of his new album, Strange Time, London-based Brisbanite, MF Tomlinson features prominently amongst those who have dealt well with the enforced isolation that has been our lot for much of the past twelve months.  For example, he’s spent time becoming pretty useful on the saxophone, and he’s also picked up his acoustic guitar and written a string of songs that reflect on the circumstances of lockdown and the various turmoils that face the world today. Songs that are, in MF’s own words – “Littered with daily observations, aimless thoughts and vulnerable truths.”

MF’s early success in the music business was as the vocalist and rhythm guitarist with Aussie indie rockers Yves Klein Blue who toured the world, often supporting the likes of Franz Ferdinand and Powerfinger.  He relocated to London after YKB disbanded and formed another band, Many Things, before, in 2020, launching his MF Tomlinson solo project with his acclaimed EP Last Days In Rome.  

Strange Time MF’s his first solo album and to fill out the sound, he has enlisted the support of a dozen or so of his musician friends – an ensemble he has dubbed the MFs, not to reflect his own moniker but because, in his words, “They’re all talented motherfuckers.”  In full, that list of MFs is: MF himself on vocals, acoustic guitar, electric guitar, synth and sax, Joe Conner on pianet, clarinet and bass guitar, Viljam Nybacka on bass guitar and organ, Marcus Hamblett on flugelhorn and trumpet, Connie Chatwin on backing vocals, Fifi Homan on cello, Ami Koda on flute and backing vocals, Gail Tasker on flute, Ed Grimshaw on drums, Yiğit Bülbül on percussion, Ben Manning on double bass and Angus James on electric guitar.  That’s an eclectic mix of instruments, and they’re certainly used to good effect to create a sound that is full and rich, yet simultaneously pastoral and laid back.

The songs on Strange Time are all fairly long – half of them log in at over five minutes – and MF’s declared influences that include Brigitte Fontaine, Leonard Cohen and Bobbie Gentry are all detectable in the songwriting which covers a number of potentially difficult topics in a sympathetic way, with occasional sprinklings of self-deprecation and humour to sweeten the medicine.

We start with the title track, a song with a delightful laid-back vibe that sets the tone for the whole album.  It’s probably the best reflection of the lockdown ordeal that I’ve heard yet and, despite lyrics like “I’m locked down in my home, just scrolling my phone, I’m trying to fathom the tragedy now and hereafter” and “We got more than we bargained for this time” that certainly don’t shirk in the ‘blunt assessment’ stakes. MF actually manages to make the isolation and introspection of lockdown seem appealing!

Spring muses on the thought that, perhaps, the time of the human race may be coming to an end and that the less harmful species (ie – everything else on Earth) is about to step in and reclaim the planet.  It’s a jazzy, languid number with some wonderful brass and autoharp parts that add a lush texture and help build towards a genuine feeling of rebirth.  MF uses the next track, Long Day, to reflect on his experiences of working in a bakery, an occupation that involved early starts and late finishes.  MF’s life observations and half-conscious impressions are backed by pastoral flute and subtle percussion; a wonderful tune.

The album’s central track is probably the seven-minute-plus Them Apples.  A co-write with band member Viljam Nybacka, it comes in several chunks, the first of which recalls the restrained jazz/folk/rock of Pentangle, before moving on to something considerably more abstract and almost King Crimson-like.  It’s a highly evocative piece with references to SOS notes found in cheap clothes imported from Bangladesh and the tidal threat to Venice and features some excellent flute and guitar contributions and an awesome backing vocal from Connie Chatwin.

In contrast, Baby’s Been Gone is an accessible, hummable love song with a lyric that makes you wonder if you should really be taking it too seriously.  Fifi Homan’s cello adds an enjoyable richness to the tune’s arrangement. 

The album closes with Thursday 8PM, a song named for the weekly time when society came together during summer 2020 to show their appreciation for the NHS.  MF notes his reservations about the value of the ‘clap for carers’ whilst the government was continuing to gut the NHS, but also “found solace and hope in the collective energy it brought and [noted that] it served as a reminder that humanity will prevail.” Sentiments I wholeheartedly support.  The song is pleasant with a slight calypso feel and a combination of double bass, light percussion, flute and acoustic guitar that is reminiscent of the late sixties sound of bands like Trees.  Very nice.

I’ve enjoyed Strange Times.  It’s an album packed with soft, languid jazzy tunes, great instrumentation and messages that encourage reflection on the Strange Times we live in and in the impact our actions are having on our planet.  Well worth a listen.

Watch the Official Video to the album’s title track Strange Time here:

MF Tomlinson Online: Website/ Facebook/ Twitter/ Instagram/ YouTube/ Bandcamp

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