Let me tell you about my mate Rob.
No wait, let me tell you about my mate Rob calling me from Glastonbury a few years ago to let me hear...
No, wait...we'll get to Rob in a short while. Let me tell you first of possibly the best album I've ever had the pleasure to review.
Hailing from the sun-drenched climes of Los Angeles, Hour Of the Shipwreck have hewn something really quite remarkable from their not inconsiderable, combined sack of talent.
Their debut album, The Hour Is Upon Us currently sits for the umpteenth time in my player. What's so unusual in this? I hear you ask.
Tarry, young Jedi Sponger - I shall tell thee.
My usual M.O. (as I once touched upon in a review many moons ago, when all of this was just fields and trees) is to play each CD I plan to review a couple of times in the car. I then have a pretty good handle on the general gist of the album and play it again as, like now, I am writing the review, skipping back and forth between tracks as I glean a lyric or musical moment worthy of either my praise or my derision.
This means I play each album at least three times. Sometimes (OK, most times), they're the only three plays I ever hear of the CD before they're consigned to the vaults by one of the highly-trained, incredibly well-paid and superbly-treated (and never thrashed to within an inch of their miserable lives for serving the dolphin tureen three minutes too early two nights in succession - even though I'd made it perfectly clear that just one transgression of the in-house culinary rulebook was punishable by an hour with me and a length of lead-piping with six-inch nails sticking out of the end - no matter what the newspapers and transcripts from the employment tribunals may lead you to believe) staff here at Lawton Towers.
God bless and keep them all.
The Hour Is Upon Us, as I say, is playing as I type...for what might well be the tenth time. This is unheard of pre-review behaviour Chez Lawton and there is one, very simple, very valid reason.
It's fucking exceptional.
Hour Of the Shipwreck is basically a five-piece ensemble, led by songwriter/guitarist/singer Richie Kohan. I say "basically", as they benefit from additional instrumentation (including cello...yes, a real one) from the magnificently named Bram Inscore - and their crowning glory...a real choir.
Yes, my love, my darling, my own...a 30-voice, living, breathing choir.
You may have surmised, gentle reader, that there may be something more at work here than the usual Californian offering of whining emo adolescence to get my juices (the legal ones) pumping...and you'd be right.
It's hard to know where to start. Should I dissect this gem or approach it as a whole? I may do both – I may do neither.
The Hour Is Upon Us (regardless of the origins of the band) is a dark, distinctly English, November afternoon, just after sunset. Ravens as black as the Devil's soul take flight against the fading, steel-blue sky of a dying autumn and somewhere, someone burns the wood from the final tree-pruning of the year, the aromatic smoke igniting memories from years gone by. You breathe deep and welcome the sense of melancholy invoked in you by the tableau.
The Hour Is Upon Us is the soundtrack to an ever-repeating vision of a lonely woman, hopefully fondling a never-worn wedding dress in an empty house, to which a lover, decades previously, promised to one day return but never did.
The Hour Is Upon Us is a winter evening, spent with friends around a roaring fire, sipping brandy and swapping ghost stories, tales which become more macabre and unsettling as the evening wears on. You excuse yourself to take a lungful of fresh air and upon your return, you find yourself alone...one solitary glass of brandy, no evidence of anyone having been there but yourself. A shadow in the periphery of your vision scurries into the darkest recess of the room and faint sighing can be heard before it fades away into silence, save for the ticking of an antique clock.
The Hour Is Upon Us is what could have been playing aboard the Marie Celeste when the rescuers landed on its empty decks.
The Hour Is Upon Us is a lonely walk on a desolate, stormy beach, where you happen across the timbers of a long-lost pirate galleon, smashed against the rocks centuries before and now uncovered, finally, by the eternal, relentless tides. You kick a piece of the ancient, rotting hulk to expose a bony finger and the words "Help me", freshly-scratched into the decaying wood of the ship. You know you should leave and seek the company of others, but you don't. You know, even as you reach out, that you shouldn't be tracing your own fingertips along that harrowing, freshly-scarred wood, but you still do...and you know that there is no way for that bony finger to move and point at you...but it does anyway.
I was going to choose one of the above paragraphs to make my point, but they all work, so they can all stay.
From the first track, I knew that this was going to be a difficult review to put into words.
Lots of influences lend their ghostly hand here, without ever making the listener tut-tut and draw a stinging comparison. Richie Kohan's vocal is whispered, almost Thom Yorke-ish in pitch and, it has to be said, sets the tone (if you'll excuse the pun) for the whole feel of the album. A voice lost in time, resurfacing in the present day to tell the story of its master.
Sure, shades of Radiohead, Selling England By The Pound-era Genesis, Jethro Tull, Explosions In the Sky, Godspeed...acknowledged in no more than a polite nod and a curt handshake. Let me put it this way, gentle reader...in future reviews, I'll be likening other artists to Hour Of The Shipwreck.
Take all of the references above, imagine that a group of Victorian musicians invented rock music and you have the picture.
No, belay that...just go and buy the album. Please...just buy it, take it home, play it in a darkened room and lose yourself in the experience.
Oh, yes....back to my mate Rob.
He's become my friend through being a customer of my company. We often trade musical tips when he calls me and I spent a good ten minutes the other day extolling the virtues of Hour Of The Shipwreck to him. I've only ever done this to him once before –I'd been into an up and coming band since day one and felt them important enough to push as many people as I could in their direction. Rob got so much into that band that he bought everything they'd produced and rang me on his mobile phone from Glastonbury to let me hear the first song of their set, as a repayment for the favour.
As I was exhorting him to buy The Hour Is Upon Us, I reminded him of this and made it plain that he needed to buy it as much as he needed to buy the output of the other band.
And the other band's name? A small group of people known collectively as Sigur Ros.
You must own this album, dear reader. And look, if you don't....well, have you ever seen the film The Fog?
You have been warned.