Music from the clouds. The new album from Angus McOg is highly engaging and very, very different
Release Date: 28th April 2023
Label: Gare du Nord Records
Formats: CD, Vinyl, Download
I don’t often do this, but I think I’ll start this review with a quote from the album’s press release:
“The cirrus clouds are amongst the highest in the sky. Made of very small ice crystals, they appear rarefied, distant and elusive. But at dawn and dusk, they become coloured filters, blue, pink, red, orange and yellow, and their presence changes the world in the eyes of the beholder, transforming the perception of things, time and space. And it is by following the thread of this gaze that Cirrus becomes the name of Angus McOg’s new album – eight tracks that arise from a folk-rock heart traveling between Americana, art rock and indie rock.”
Now – when I first read that passage, I wondered, probably in the same way that you are wondering now, what on Earth is he talking about… But, having sat and listened closely to Cirrus, the fourth album from the alarming Angus, it – somehow – makes a lot of sense. Cirrus is, indeed, music from the clouds; an assault of assorted aural adventures – thoroughly engaging and very, very different.
Haling from Modena, Italy, Angus McOg is the alter-ego of Antonio Tavoni. He’s been around for quite some time – his debut album, Anorak, appeared as long ago as 2011, and we last heard from him when he released his acclaimed third album, Beginners, back in 2018. It’s plain that Antonio isn’t a fast worker, then, but don’t all the best albums benefit from a generous dose of love, care and consideration? And, as we know, those things take time.
Cirrus is another great album to have been conceived during lockdown. After mapping out his confinement-inspired ideas, Antonio took them along to the rehearsal room at Sonic Temple Studio in Parma where he, his selected musicians (I’ll come to them in just a moment) and producer Andrea Rovacchi, worked the basic ideas into the eight frescos that comprise the finished album. The songs were recorded live, in the studio, before the tapes were taken over to New York for mastering.
Listening to the album, it’s fairly easy to pick out Antonio’s original ideas. Concentrate on his own parts – vocals, guitars, piano and harmonium – and the folk(ish) roots of the songs are laid bare. But then… The songs are transformed into the dream-laden soundscapes of the final product by the mastery of Antonio’s band: Luca Di Mira on bass, synths and electric piano, Enrico Pasini on trumpet, sax, pianos and organ, Luca Torreggiani on drums and percussion and Fulvia Gasparini on backing vocals.
There’s a great variety of musical styles and influences in evidence on Cirrus. The album’s opening track – the title track – is almost akin to chamber jazz, as an understated drumbeat and some lush string effects are wrapped around Antonio’s vocals and the song’s recurrent piano theme; Straight-ahead rock – or something that almost fits that description – gets a look-in on the excellent Lou, a song that, by accident or (as I suspect) design, bears a close resemblance to a cleaned-up version of The Velvets’ Sweet Jane, and, even more obviously and urgently, on the chugging Communist Party Party. On the latter of these, the guitars jingle and jangle and Luca’s bass thunders, whilst Antonio manages to sound almost like a frenzied Marc Bolan.
Elsewhere, the folky Currents catches the psych-folk essence of The Incredible String Band in the song’s structure and subject matter, as well as in the almost uncanny similarity between Antonio’s voice and that of Robin Williamson, whilst Chances, one of my two favourite picks, recalls the prog-rock majesty of the mid-1970s. The soloing is superb and Antonio (on guitar) and Enrico (on trumpet) both excel.
And, we’re not finished yet. Parts relives the freshness and vibrancy of punk with its resonant basslines and choppy drumbeat whilst the mesmeric Sirens offers blasts of sixties-sounding psych-pop. But, perhaps the ultimate highlight of this fascinating album is the track that Antonio has wisely saved until the end. Say My Name is the ultimate slow-builder; the band come in gradually and Fulvia’s divine backing vocals are poured on like a syrupy dressing. There’s more of Enrico’s wonderful trumpet, and Antonio repeats the “Say my name” phrase through it all. In places, the song almost becomes a dreamscape, and every band member plays a full part. It’s a marvelous, fulfilling end to an enthralling, adventurous album.
Listen to Cirrus – the album’s title track – here: