Sometimes it happens: a new album is released and you think it is the best thing out there in the universe right now. Something that is so good, that it's coming-together seems downright magical.
musicOMH described The Soul of The Hour
as "relentlessly hypnotic, densely psychedelic record"
The Label says the album"offers heartfelt songs of dread, sadness, love and anguish, ever reaching for the transcendent moment within the incessant race against the passage of time."
James Johnston said: "We wanted this record to be something you could really get lost in, to take you somewhere, atmosphere’s really important to the music [...]"
(3) and that this album is "not particularly angry [...] it's almost more out there and more romantic, and at the same time quite melancholy."
(4) He also described the sound of the record as "a combination of frustration and total release" and "some sort of euphoric, wild joy and indulgence in beautiful, chaotic noise"
(4) that "feels more direct and locked in groove-wise"
and has "far more trippy elements around it"
I first came across Gallon Drunk in the late phase of myspace profiles, when clicking through any Bad Seeds related stuff I could find. They were probably right next to a link to Cave's Grinderman (fromed in 2006 with bandmembers Warren Ellis, Jim Sclavunos and Martyn P. Casey). I couldn't decide whether to keep "Bedlam" or " Some Fool's Mess" on my profile. Those two songs were what got me hooked in the first place. According to my last.fm stats, that was 2007/2008-ish = before "The Road Gets Darker from Here" and when James Johnston was into doing things with ...bender
"The Rotten Mile
", which was released on the Fred Label in 2007, and "From the Heart of Town" (1993) became two of my top 10 all-time-favourite albums and when they went on Tour in 2008
, I got to see them at Festsaal Kreuzberg (which unfortunately burned down in 2013). That was where I bought my copies of "You, The Night...And The Music" and "Tonite... the Singles Bar". Those earlier albums apparently had just been reissued on the London-based Label Sartorial Records (www.sartorialrecords.greedbag.com
) in 2007. (7)
What I still find hard to understand is, that by 2008 I had read 2 Nick Cave biographies and still didn't seem to know /remember much about the Gallon Drunk band history whatsoever. I think both biographies were published in the 90s and therewith focusing on a time before James Johnston was a Bad Seeds member (5).
I never knew people who were much into the Bad Seeds or anything post-punk (hence the LAST.FM) or even punk rock, so I ascribe that fast fading memory of music history to a lack of everyday life-context.
To my defence I CAN say that I did recognise Terry Edwards
on stage at a Tindersticks concert (April 30 2008) one month after the Gallon Drunk concert (March 11 2008) in Berlin.
But what it all boils down to is, that I just really loved/love "The Rotten Mile" and until this year did NOT know that James Johnston had recorded music/toured with The Bad Seeds.
I can only speculate that the ups and downs of life have led to me missing the releases of Big Sexy Noise, the 2012 album The Road Gets Darker From Here and a praised concert of Big Sexy Noise in Erfurt , which apparently even the chief of the Museumskeller in Erfurt still remembers fondly, judging by the way he reacted to my The Soul of the Hour tote bag in April 2014.
So I had to catch up with a lot of things that probably contributed to the wild and desperate sound of The Road Gets Darker From Here
: the death of Simon Wring and the collaboration with Lydia Lunch in the form of Big Sexy Noise (www.bigsexynoise.net
And since I bought my copy of The Road Gets Darker From Here at the concert in Hamburg (shame on me...), it sort of was like reading the second novel before the first, if that is a legitimate comparison. So that for me it was like two new albums being released at once - which is really crazy, considering how mindblowingly (is that a word?) epic they both are. Like being overrun by a truck, but in a good way.
Except maybe that it has put all other music
into the shadow deep, deep below the music made by the four guys of Gallon Drunk. Sometimes I try to listen to Interpol instead. Ha. And then there also were the "Bear me Away" songs and the 2002 album "Fire Music" that I could fall back onto -you know- in an attempt to listen to 'something else' for a change than "The Soul Of the Hour". According to various twitter posts, "The Soul of the Hour" had the same addicting effect on other people.
So I did not miss the release of The Soul of the Hour
and was up surprised when a record store in Erfurt (Woodstock www.woodstock-ef.de/
) had like 5 Vinyls and some CD copies of the new album on the 10th/11th of March.
I think the first impression I got was that the album was kind of short (40 minutes or so?), so that I repeadetly had to go back to the stero and press PLAY again, while going about some texts and documents at my desk [which, I know, is not the appropriate style for a first listen]. The second impression probably was that the lyrics and sound of songs like "Before the Fire
", "The Exit Sign
" and "The Soul of the Hour
"seemed to be alluding to some unspecific but imminent danger. Something -because of its danger- you might not want to explore too closely but that is right around the corner (or rather, in the words of Tom Waits, "Way Down in the Hole"), whether you like it or not. "The ice is getting thin,
and the light steals up the walls again,
You've got to break to the surface to breathe"
( "The Soul of the Hour
")"The wheels are shaking the brakes have gone,
get your pleasure while there's time,
At the exit sign."
( "The Exit Sign
When the title track
's slick, slow sounds are almost bleeding
out of your stereo, I don't know what kind of person you'd have to be to NOT be knocked off your feet. I mean, that is a stupid thing to say really; I guess it's just just because that's how much the music resonates with me.
One can sink into the haunting beauty of "The Soul of the Hour" and in it's melancholy. It's pace and drum-driven relentlessness in "The Exit Sign
" and "The Speed of Fear
" however are thrilling to say the least, yet not in the wild unleashed style as on some of their '90s songs. Maybe one could say that it just sounds more focused. Maybe it also has to do with the thingies they used at the CloudsHill studio. I think Johnston said they contributed to a more "uniform feel" (4).
The mind-blowing, hypnotic opening of "The Speed of Fear
"..."right here, loaded and primed, fixed stare, glassy eyed. And reason is denied. Down here in the city's night again."
[insert baam!-sequence here]
...in my humble opinion, almost evokes this image of a man standing on an open field in the night, facing the force of a raging tornado with all its rain and wind tearing at him, but there he is holding on to dear life, daring the tornado to test his unflinching will to live.
On the other hand it also has the atmosphere of someone being lost/on the run in a city in summer, with the asphalt burning, sun blinding and dust and smog burning in his lungs (although the lyrics obviously are referring to a night scenery).
In a recent Interview over at LouderthanWords J.J. said "I agree that there is a desperate urgency in both the music and the lyrics, but also a sort of euphoria too, like Dylan Thomas’ “rage against the dying of the light”
The same probably goes for the very urban-feeling, immidiately gripping, in-your-face bonus track "Cold Hard Light of Day
" asking "Is anybody left here alive?" and in the style of "Killing Time
" salutes "and if your desperate and deluded then so am I, but anyway, see you in the cold hard light of day".
My God, is that song amazing! So when songs like "Bad Servant" or "Grand Union Canal" made me think it can't get any better than this, I was obviously wrong.
I think its true that -as Russell Cuzner of The Quietus has put it- the album has the "Indelible Stain" to it. But it also sounds like something very fresh and new. In some interviews that change has been ascribed to the influences auf krautrock and Gil Evans. But I'll leave those conclusions to the band, because what do I know, really?
I am happy to get my hands on anything jazz/blues/blues-rock/electronic/experimental that the band recommends though (http://www.last.fm/user/traumcave/library/tags?tag=gallon+drunk+merkliste&page=2
). Like when Terry Edwards slected the song Twenty-Five Miles by Truman Thomas on a radio interview recently (https://soundcloud.com/resonance-fm/20-00-00-the-clear-spot-the
) or James posts songs on their facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/GallonDrunk
Oh, and "Before the Fire" has the most amazing music video ever [directed by Joachim Zunke http://vimeo.com/joachimzunke
]. The fog, the streets, the stumbling and the dizzy finale in the urban landscape....
I mentioned that notion of a lingering /imminent danger. "Before the Fire
" has a lot of that and is maybe the most desperate and 'dangerous' song of the record. "This is the only day the only night, and you stand framed against the raging sky" Before the Fire
With that howling, smashing desperation it is not something that is easy on you (not, that it should be). It is rather like falling off the edge into a deep, dark abyss right at the beginning of the record. At the same time it has a this fragile, freezing-cold kind of beauty to it. So one can't help but be amazed not only by that opener but the genius that James Johnston, Ian White, Terry Edwards and Leo Kurunis managed to put into the new album. Especially since it is the 8th studio album (21 years after the realease of the classic "From The Heart of Town
To be honest, I hadn't expected to hear anything this good again in my life. Not to mention the seing "Before the Fire" or "The Speed of Fear" performed live.
I also appreciate that the album takes a kind of positive turn towards the end with the staggeringly beautiful "Dust in the Ligh
t" and fast-forward dance of "The Speed of Fear". The water-like, psychedlic, starry night-atmospheric "Dust in the Light" and "The Speed of Fear" will most likely be my favourite songs of 2014 and the soundtrack of this summer. In his lyrics, Johnston lets two lovers find refuge in "the barely beating heart of the night":"And we're like paper ready to burn,
and leaves fall to the earth"
"Come on pour me away,
and like the leaving day,
Dissolve , turn a kind of nothing,
(album artwork and lyrics)
this album feels like such a historic milestone to me and the audience -at least in my corner of the Magnet club- in Berlin (02.04.) seemed a bit underwhelmed and reserved at the gig, I thought that it would be a once-in-a-lifetime kind of chance to get to see them play the album live in Hamburg, where they not only did record the new album, but also "The Road Gets Darker from Here" [which they had started recording shortly before Simon Wring died].(6)
There are actually some interviews with Clouds Hill's Johann Scheerer
on You Tube and the web, in which he talks about his lo-fi and analog approach. (8)
a video of Gallon Drunk recording @CloudsHill: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v7zx4xRlIqw
(Cloudshill studios in Hamburg, http://www.clouds-hill.com/
All in all that idea seemed so crazy, that I ended up deciding to do it on the day of the concert (07.04.) . I had tried getting tickets online, but that didn't work, so there was some risk in that, since I of course expect the rest of the world wanting to see them live. Hm, I remember watching the sun going down on the bus to Hamburg listening to "Before the fire". Also the place at Haus73 in Hamburg was nicely decorated with countless Gallon Drunk concert posters, which was a very pretty sight.
I think I might have spouted the band's tour guy (Patrik Kučera?) before the gig about being so (!) excited about the new record. Also, I most definitely froze, when the amazing James Johnston (pointy shoes) walked past me, while I was nervously waiting for the gig, listening to the Hamburg people play the Afghan Whigs "Do to the Beast" album as warm-up music 1,5 times around (like "Lost in the Woods", "It Kills" and "These Sticks"- talk about anticipation building up...).
The venue of kleiner Donner in Hamburg made the songs sound very dense and heavy, because in that cellar, there was no way for the epic music to go to waste. It, of course, left James Johnston and Leo Kurunis very little space to move for a good hour or so though. Just One More
The crowd also seemed to be more loose and 'willing to party' than in Berlin, so yay
A clip of "The Soul of the Hour
" from Budapest with a nice thick sound https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qSftYOQKOOU
***"it just goes on and on and on and again."
(concert poster in Berlin 2014)
1) musicOMH March 4, 2014 http://www.musicomh.com/reviews/albums/gallon-drunk-soul-hour
3) Louderthanwords April 29, 2014 http://louderthanwar.com/the-louder-than-war-interview-gallon-drunk-talk-about-their-great-new-album/
4) The Quietus April 3, 2004 http://thequietus.com/articles/14880-gallon-drunk-interview
5) Nick Cave bios "The Bad Seed" by Ian Johnston & "The Life and Music of Nick Cave" by Robert Klanten/ Johannes Beck/Robert Clanton/Max Dax
6) trebuchet interview, April 18 http://www.trebuchet-magazine.com/gallon-drunk-interview/
also in June 2012 Interview Sayitwithgarageflowers https://sayitwithgarageflowers.wordpress.com/2012/06/
7) Early-Gallon Drunk Reissued, May 29, 2007 http://www.adequacy.net/2007/05/early-gallon-drunk-reissued/
8) Johann Scherer interviews (German): LofiDogma Hamburg | Interview mit Produzent Johann Scheerer https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iC7EwaKKlW0
, lieben & hassen: Johann Scheerer mit Stift und Papier (2013) http://www.yaez.de/Musik/1284-lieben-hassen-Johann-Scheerer-mit-Stift-und-Papier.html
, mainstage magazine interview 2009 http://mainstage.de/2009/12/johann-scheerer-im-gesprach/
9) ...bender at bandcamp http://benderbenderbender.bandcamp.com/
10) Erfurt 2011-Big Sexy Noise concert review http://www.labellos.de/konzertrezensionen/big-sexy-noise-feat.-lydia-lunch-14.11.2011-museumskeller-erfurt.html
/ video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jiK5PozR2hk