The epic second movement of London-based Brisbanite MF Tomlinson’s magnum opus.
Release Date: 17th February 2023
Label: PRAH Recordings
Formats: Vinyl / Download / Streaming
Back in April 2021, we had quite a few good things to say about the lockdown-conceived commentary of a world in turmoil that was Strange Time – the (then) new album from London-based Brisbanite, MF Tomlinson. Whilst covering such difficult subjects as the ordeal of lockdown, the fragility of the human race, child labour and climate change, Strange Time left us with a cautious expression of optimism for better times ahead – an expectation that has, maybe, yet to come to any kind of fruition…
Well – it seems that Strange Time was only part of the story that MF had to tell, because his new album, We Are Still Wild Horses, picks up where Strange Time left off; it’s the second movement in a magnum opus that may still yet have more mileage left to run. And, whereas Strange Time ended on an upbeat note, We Are Still Wild Horses finds MF plunged back into a realm of isolation, embarking on a journey into the self, in search of hope, catharsis.
The musical style of We Are Still Wild Horses is a marked progression from MF’s earlier work. The mix of psych-folk and jazz is still there and plainly visible but there are huge chunks of the new album that delve far deeper into prog, psychedelia and the abstract soundscapes of composers such as Phillip Glass and Jon Hopkins. Recorded, as it was, during the later stages of lockdown, the album was assembled in layers with each contributor – including Ed Grimshaw (drums), Ben Manning (bass), Joe Connor (piano), Allexa Nava (sax and piccolo flute) and Connie Chatwin (backing vocals) each adding their own parts remotely to add colour and texture to MF’s initial sketches.
We Are Still Wild Horses is a strongly evocative record – in parts, almost a sculpture in sound – that gives form to the emotions felt by MF as the songs came to life. MF elaborates: “In the darkest months of winter , I felt these words open up within me. In them, I walked free through sometimes wonderful, sometimes terrifying, uninhabited landscapes that teetered on the edge of nothingness. As you listen, maybe you’ll recognize yourself as that solitary figure on the abyss. This is the sister record of Strange Time – another diary of a plague year. It is of a time, but I do not think that it is tied to it. In the end, we always feel despair, disillusionment, hope, longing, insanity, rage, frustration, helplessness and resignation. Through all of that, we are still wild horses.” Now: that message may not mean much to anyone reading it for the first time, but – I can assure you – it means a great deal once you’ve had a deep listen to We Are Still Wild Horses.
In true ‘concept album’ fashion, We Are Still Wild Horses comprises just four pieces; three interlinked songs that continue the musings on the state of humanity and its relationships with the world, its inhabitants and its environment before, in the epic 21-minute title track, MF delves – to a depth I’ve seldom ever witnessed – the innermost reaches of his mental and physical being. Readers seeking easy listening or light entertainment should look elsewhere!
Opening track, The Cloud, picks up at the precise point at which Strange Time ended, with the same lines picked on the same acoustic guitar. The lyrics are a commentary of MF’s own observations – of people in the street or congregating outside his hotel window, as he realizes that the world he grew up in has passed away. The production is surprisingly lush, with nice, rich double bass and flurries of piano from Joe Connor adding flavour to MF’s guitar and, despite the despair expressed in the lyrics, it makes for a pleasant listening experience.
The despair deepens as MF articulates that 2021 winter depression and his powerlessness in the face of the world’s issues in Winter Time Blues – as MF explains: “Underneath the slow energy of the song is this feeling of wanting to punch the wall and tear everything down.” Quite jazzy, in slightly disturbing kind of way, the comfort of MF’s gently-picked guitar is punctuated by angry blasts of sax and the lyrics – “I’ve got the blues again/ Doing my f*cking head in/ After all, for Chrissakes, I’m an Australian” are equally angry. And, to add further shape to the anger and frustration, the song is highlighted by a slow instrumental passage, fronted by a tortured, wailing, electric guitar – and it’s really something special!
Described as “A magical realist hymn for the end of humanity – a paean to the hope of community and the hopelessness of humanity,” the stunning The End of the Road finds MF seeking grounds – any grounds – for optimism and, unbelievably, he finds some. The lyrics reference government and police intolerance of causes such as Extinction Rebellion and BLM before contrasting that negativity with the harmony and togetherness at events like Dorset’s bucolic End of the Road festival. Using lyrics like: “So it’s nice to know where they all get to – all the people like me and you,” MF imagines a utopian haven from which those that care can build a new society in their image. It’s all very idealistic but, as a wiser man me once said, without dreams, we have nothing. And musically, The End of the Road is probably my favourite song on the album as voice and piano merge with atmospheric slide guitar and some wonderfully ghostly backing vocals from Connie. And the song’s long fade-out repeats MF’s apocalyptic message to our leaders that “We’ll all be waiting, right here, at the end of the road.”
And that’s only the first half of the album!
The album’s second half – Side 2 if you can get hold of the vinyl version – is occupied entirely by that epic title track and, if you thought that MF was getting deeply introspective during the first three songs, nothing you’ve heard so far will prepare you for what comes next.
A dreamy, sinister opening of jazzy piano and bass – perhaps representing stepping stones or a path through misty marshland – opens out into a song that combines MF’s introspective musings – “…no matter what the weather it seems, I’ll hold onto my old shoes – keep singing the blues” – with bright, raucous fairground imagery. The lyrics are abstract and, as the piece progresses from a song into a lengthy instrumental section, things become more abstract still. Keyboards swirl and flutes, piano and synth add to a dreamlike cacophony, designed to, in MF’s words, “cross the barrier between unconscious and conscious, achieving a state of ‘no mind.’” And that’s exactly what this music does. As I’ve already inferred, it isn’t an easy listen, but it’s highly fascinating and it certainly encourages anyone prepared to put in the intellectual investment to consider the points that MF is trying to put across.
And the musical element of We Are Still Wild Horses isn’t even the full story – the album has inspired two sister works. The first is the cover art by Chaira Baima Poma, which succeeds in capturing the spirit and vitality that the album’s music and lyrics insist that we all possess. The other sister work is a short film made by director and choreographer Daisy JT Smith in collaboration with MF Tomlinson – watch out for it!
Watch the first installment of the Daisy JT Smith film – the video to The End of the Road (a track from the album) here:
MF Tomlinson online: Website / Facebook / Twitter / Instagram / YouTube
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