Exquisite! More glorious gloomy songs “in the key of Fife” from King Creosote.
Release Date: 3rd November 2023
Label: Domino Records
Format: CD / Vinyl / Digital
No, me neither. I think it possibly something around Roman dates, Ides of March and all that, one of the songs actually called Ides, and the album art also proclaiming MMXXIII. That’s 2023. Ides is the approximate middle of any month, so that ain’t today. The record label suggest a tribute to Des (Lawson), a key player, seemingly, in the making of the record, but I am uncertain if I buy that. Or the one about it being an anagram of dies. I think our Kenny is being playful. Kenny is Kenny Anderson, aka King Creosote, who has been toting his regal moniker for nigh on 30 years, and who has kept us waiting a long 7 years for this release. (We’ll ignore the zillion or so less official self-releases and those on his own Fence Collective imprint). Sure, there have been a few hurdles in the road and along the way, worldwide, but 2016’s Astronaut Meet Appleman looked capable of knocking him, blinking, into the limelight, hitting 25 in the top 30 album charts, number 2 in Scotland, and leaving this listener hungry for more. Worth the wait?
It’s A Sin That’s Got It’s Hold On Us certainly suggests so, the opening volley of background sound and swooping strings, alongside a now familiar motorik beat, building anticipation from the blocks. Without that much ado, up chimes HRH with his chunkily idiosyncratic East Neuk vocal. Very much business as usual, a lilting anthem: “It’s the drugs that always make me cry, when I was having such a good time“, he sings, the bittersweetness already evident, the uncanny mix of ennui with exhaltation. I’m in! “We become hooked on sin, like some others get hooked on drugs” intones a disembodied voice as it closes, sending the geese a’bumping up my spine. But Blue Marbled Elm Trees settles such qualms, with what sounds like harmonium a luscious bed for his angsty vocal and rhythm section cascade, female bvs adding lustre to the chorus. “I shan’t complain“, with a kitchen sink of instruments washing about the mix. Elongated notes, drones, I guess, shimmer aplenty; is that pedal steel adding the drone, whilst guitars stutter and chatter?
Burial Bleak is a slower and more sombre construct, sawing cello adding low notes, the title and lyrics perhaps adding weight, gulp, to the anagram idea. With, again, paired female vocals, it is a beauty, even if he’s “worrying myself to death“. The strings shimmy over a mournful melodeon mid-section. Like a hymn, there is some ecclesiastic organ to drive further home the appearance of eulogy. Jings, this is good, as it ends like a cliff drop. I was going to say like the curtain close at a cremation, but that seemed too dark, even if Dust then sounds like the next stage, an ambient flotation tank of a melody. And, yes, the lyrics certainly don’t shy away from reinforcing that idea, ashes to ashes and all that……. (If this is heaven, it sounds OK to me.)
Heaven? Well, apart from Walter De La Nightmare being one of the best song titles I have heard, I am hoping this ain’t hell. A gloomy and funereal beat, with stark piano chords, ushers in an even starker commentary: “Of all the hearts broken I left behind, at least 13 were mine“. It may even be 38, his voice slipping and slurring in self-flagellation, some faux-jaunty banjo a terrific counterpoint to the imagery. Yet, far from depressing, it is all curiously uplifting, the fiddle solo a poignant broth of minor key calm.
I’m wanting to ask if you’re OK, Ken, hun, when all this horror gets instant dismissal with the Cellardyke disco of Susie Mullen, a song that briefly first appeared a full 3 years ago, a top 20 single even. A chant of treated vocals vying with a frenetic hex of swirling synths, it was shockingly different then, sounding even more alien now. Those familiar with Bluebell, Cockleshell, 123, from his From Scotland With Love album in 2014, will be able to imagine this as the same chorale, if having strayed upon a stash of something unsuitable in their teacher’s drawer. Weird and unsettling, it certainly breaks the ice. (Folk in the know needn’t write in to tell me that Walter etc was the flip of the 2020 single, even if I, hitherto, wasn’t.)
Some opera bleeds into the start of Love Is A Curse, and continues throughout, to get back on the serious business of malign introspection, that soundtrack faltering and wobbling relatively, and thankfully, swiftly. Which allows the piano lament of Ides to burst through anew, reminding of Anderson’s extravagant grasp of melody, crooning for all his tuppence, bringing the album proper to a close, full of further deprecatory barbs directed inward. (Sure you’re OK?) But, the end is never the end with KC, so there is a 13 plus minute addendum, Please Come Back, I Will Listen, I Will Behave, I Will Toe The Line, the title perhaps saying all. An orchestral suite, if you will, that starts with semi-Swingle Singers vocals, before Anderson intones a possible explanation, a slow judder of electronica pulling it, and he, forward. Uncertain to whom he offers this plea, but it is an effective and engrossing tone poem, the hypnotic sound carrying, for once, more weight than the words. “Take me with you next time” gives the feel of an Orpheus in the underworld, transplanted back to this world. Read that story, and, it sort of fits? A tick tocking pulse becomes more apparent as it draws to an end, before the clouds close off on the disappearing form of Eurydice. (Maybe.)
But it still isn’t the end, the physical release, at least on vinyl, including an extra track, as a download link. Drone In B#. Which is, literally, just that, a long drawn out single note that slowly builds momentum, orchestra and effects combining. At 36 minutes, it is less a tune than an experience, taking 7 of those to even begin to vary, with drums and bass kicking in at 12, becoming then a not unpleasant wash of ambient electronica. A brief change of direction at 20, with synthetic waves crashing and a harp tinkling, staying much with that flow, ebbing gradually to a close, if only to prove i listened to it all!!
This album brings Anderson back with a bang, although the moodswing generally downward may prove challenging for some, especially if your ears attune to the words more than the music. It’ll be fascinating to see and hear how he draws this together on stage, maybe revealing a little more about the genesis of some the bleaker songs. I look forward to finding out.
Here’s Blue Marbled Elm Trees: