If The Wedding Present’s record-breaking 12 singles in 12 months (the equivalent of 2 albums’ worth of material, albeit one of covers) back in 1992 looked like a significant feat, Sean Samuel Kelly’s (aka Storie Grubb) 2019 release schedule makes the combined efforts of Ryan Adams, The Fall, and Ty Segal look slack, chopping out a whole album for each month of the year. ‘The Void Struggle’ represents the twelfth and therefore final instalment. He describes it as ‘a mashup of ideas, themes and tales that have been there all along behind the thin walls of all these “albums a month”. it was written from many different perspectives thus giving the lyrics a dream-like quality which intentional or not helps the listener relate and put themselves in someone else’s shoes.’
Writing of the origins of the project, Kelly explains that sitting on a bunch of songs and an imminent 40th birthday, the time felt right to just do it, both for the creative experience and the possibility of reaching a wider audience. As an artist as well as musician, he’s done the cover art for all of the releases, too. If keeping it DIY risks limiting audience reach, if nothing else, it means total artistic control, and in context, it works well.
Quantity is one thing (and I can relate: I’ve always said I aspire to produce enough output that would cover its patchiness), but given that with so much music and so little time, and punters having short arms and deep pockets in an era of austerity and unlimited free streaming, one could question the wisdom of such an immense and ambitious project.
Thankfully, the quality is very much there on this varied 12-track set, and creatively, it’s clear he’s still got plenty of gas in the tank.
In terms of style and production, ‘The Void Struggle’ sits firmly in the lo-fi indie / alternative bracket, and it’s far from a criticism to describe the approach to songwriting as simple but effective. ‘Built to Spill’ sounds like early Smiths but with better singing and the knowledge that the lyricist shows no signs of being a nascent right-wing bigot.
‘Harness the Moon’ is a standout with its nagging guitar motif, while there’s a downbeat melancholic hue to ‘Ancient Applause’. Elsewhere, ‘Reach for the Sky’ layers up the vocals for some nice harmonies that bring a certain 60s psych pop Kodachrome tint.
Throughout, Kelly shows a knack for a melody, and enjoyment of ‘The Void Struggle’ (which is nowhere near as desolate as its title may suggest) isn’t dependent on delving into the details of the themes and ideas behind the individual songs: it’s immediately accessible and remarkably listenable, and repeat listens yield increasing rewards.
And so with ‘The Void Struggle’, Storie Grubb wins 2019 in no uncertain terms. And if course, if you dig, this, there’s plenty of back-catalogue to sift through now.