It’s a pretty tough call when as a music writer, I don’t know what to say – although and not for the first time, I feel I should state I don’t consider myself to be a music journalist, or even critic most of the time. Music commentator? Maybe. I’m a fan first and foremost, as I believe anyone who writes about music should be. But let’s not pretty it up too much: I write about music and am therefore a music writer.
But listening to ‘In Search of the Miraculous’, I’m in search of words, staring into space and thinking ‘wow’ or otherwise just drifting.
“I’m not going to beat around the bush” says vocalist Jo Bevan of the band’s third album. “The album has a fairly high concept (or perhaps pretentious) starting point. It’s titled ‘In Search of the Miraculous’ after the artist Bas Jan Ader’s several works centered round his idea to sail across the Atlantic in the smallest craft ever to do so, as a piece of performance art. That action was intended as a culmination of his previous efforts in which he tried to figure out how to express the old Romantic idea of the Sublime in a modern art context, which involved various emotive but oblique actions such as documented falling, confessional crying, walking around his hometown of Los Angeles at night searching for an unnamed person whilst listening to a pop song, and reading aloud from an article about a boy falling off Niagara Falls - man clearly after my own dramatic, melancholic heart.”
And herein lies a large portion of the album’s appeal for me, on a personal level – and it’s on a personal level we all ultimately react to music and to any art, in whatever medium: ‘In Search of the Miraculous’ is ambitious, and it speaks beyond its immediate or designated meaning. It’s all in the delivery.
Big, bold washes of sound that are pure shoegaze drive the album from the opening kaleidoscopic blast of ‘Murmuration’: Bevan’s vocal carries hints of All About Eve’s Julianne Reagan in its folksiness, but the gritty, driving bass and layered guitars which burst into a glistening final in the final chorus take the song to another plane.
Dreamy, jangly indie-pop single ‘Cedars’, which picks apart the details of ‘another frayed jumper’ is every bit as magnificent in an album context, and if the intro and riff motif in ‘Jonatan’ sounds like a lift from The Cult’s ‘She Sells Sanctuary’, it’s fair play, and casts a well-placed nod to the band’s post-punk inspiration. Curesque guitars weave their way across a stocky, driving bassline on ‘Ocean Wave’: it’s one of those perfectly-crafted, succinct indie-pop tunes with a dark current beneath its buoyant surface that you can both dance to and contemplate.
It’s an album with range – from delicate piano-led ballads to full-blooded alt-rockouts. It has grace and depth and a rich, full production which doesn’t polish out any of the emotional force or musical integrity The sound is big, but it’s not major-label-ersatz-indie: this is real, sincere, meaningful.
No laughing: ‘In Search of the Miraculous’ finds it.