The Mining Co. – Gum Card: Album Review

An intriguing blend of folk, Americana, 80s electronic pop and ambient sound from Irish-born, London-based singer-songwriter Michael Gallagher, aka The Mining Co

Release Date:  17th March 2023

Label: PinDrop Records

Formats: Download, Streaming

The Mining Co. is the name that Irish-born, London-based singer-songwriter Michael Gallagher has chosen for his ongoing music project.  It’s a project that began back in 2016 with his debut album, Burning Sun & The Atomic Powers and which culminates – at least for the time being – with Gum Card, his fifth album.  And, along the way, since those tentative first steps seven years ago, there’s been a gradual evolution of Michael’s original Americana/Folk/Country-derived musical style into something altogether more adventurous…

For his 2021 sci-fi concept work, Phenomenology, Michael took a left-turn to explore the potential of incorporating electronic instrumentation and effects into his work; that approach is continued with Gum Card – and the result, an intriguing blend of folk, Americana, 80s electronic pop and ambient electronic sound – is quite stunning.

Gum Card has already been described as “A deeply personal suite of songs that embrace {Michael’s] love for his wife and nostalgia for his youth…, very much a product of free creativity and expression” and that’s a pretty fair summary – particularly in its reference to the personal nature of the material, but it doesn’t go even halfway towards preparing the listener for the eclecticism of the music on offer.  The songs for the album were all written by Michael at his London home and rehearsed and recorded at Paco Loco Studio in Andalucía and producer Paco Loco (Ruy Francisco Martinez Pérez, to his mother) has done a marvelous job in mixing the sounds of modern-day and vintage electronic hardware with the classic Americana components of guitars, bass and drums, whilst keeping Michael’s voice and lyrics centre-stage.  It sounds fresh, unique and utterly fascinating.

And if all this seems very much like an attempt to describe the indescribable, then I can assure you that it all makes sense after hearing the first few bars of opening track Wake Up.  The strummed acoustic guitar that introduces the song belies the spacy vocal (from Michael’s wife, Julie) and the spacy, otherworldly synth that quickly cut in to raise the song to an entirely different level.  Stripped back, the song would be a nice piece of psych-folk with an engaging melody; fully formed, it stimulates a completely different set of emotions and prepares the listener, in the best possible way, for what’s to come.

But, just as those expectations are starting to form, Michael takes us in a completely different direction with Primary, an altogether more lush – and conventional – affair, layered with acoustic and electric guitars, bass and drums.  It’s soothing and mellow and the lyrics encapsulate – perfectly – the personal theme of the album, as Michael recalls happy memories – including experiences with hallucinogens and listening to compilation tapes of favourite tunes.

If there’s a single track on the album that captures most completely the blend of folk and electronica, then it’s probably the sparse Shallow Stream, with its synth-bass rhythm and light piano and string effects.  The electronic effects are less prominent for the lovely New Bohemians, which comes across as a slice of bedsit folk – thoughtful and personal, and sung to a simple backing of strummed acoustic guitar.

Perhaps the album’s greatest triumph is its title track.  The Beatle-ish Gum Card sounds like a lost track from Magical Mystery Tour or Yellow Submarine – electronic, psychedelic and irresistible – and the lyrics will definitely resonate with anyone who, like me, shared Michael’s childhood obsession with collecting bubble gum cards.  Along with opening track, Wake Up, Gum Card was chosen as the first double ‘A’ side single to preview the album and, as a taster, I doubt that the choice could have been wiser.

Julie resumes her lead vocal role for the poppy Limits, one of the tracks chosen for the album’s second double ‘A’ side single.  It’s light and bouncy with a definite early 80s feel.  Close your eyes and it could be Martha and the Muffins…  In contrast, the rocky Reunite is almost a return to Michael’s Americana roots but, as any listener will, by this stage, have come to expect, there’s a twist.  The rootsy guitars are supplemented by a buzzing synth and some nice jangly keyboard effects and the end result falls somewhere in between Roxy Music, The Band and Wreckless Eric.

Beating Heart Revival, the final of the album’s tracks to be selected for that pair of preview singles, is, without doubt, the album’s most desolate offering.  With its post-punk synths and lyrics like “Don’t commit to the future too fast/ It’s one giant leap too far” and “Couldn’t get a beat from the dead heart/ ride with the devil and head start,” it’s a song that recalls Joy Division in sound, structure and content. 

Michael shows that he’s also an accomplished – if unconventional – balladeer on the eco-y, intimate Map of You and on the following track, Waiting Room.  A song with a sparse, ambient, backing, Map Of You comes across as a tender, frank ballad in a spacebound setting, whilst the setting changes from Spaceport to cocktail lounge for Waiting Room – and the wonderful “Sha-la-la-la” backing vocals provide an enticing coating of syrupy sophistication.

To artists other than Michael and Paco Loco, I suspect that the challenge of closing an album as experimental, eclectic, entertaining and original as Gum Card would present a significant challenge, but happily, the team rose to occasion with the short, intimate Broken Baby Bird – a song that brings this remarkable album to its gentle, sentimental end.

Watch the official video to Wake Up – the album’s opening track and one of its preview singles – here:

The Mining Co. online: Website / Facebook / Twitter / Instagram / YouTube

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