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  Deaths and Entrances  
  My Latest Novel  
  Bella Union  
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A few years ago, whilst at SxSW, Postlibyan mentioned that there was this Scottish band called My Latest Novel who he wanted to hear in concert, just to see if their live set could live up to the promise of their rather good debut album, Wolves. That concert was one of the highlights of the festival, as I stood there totally awe-struck by the strength and beauty of their music. But then, we didn't hear much of anything from this 5 piece, that is until they returned again in 2009 with their newly released second album, Deaths & Entrances.

Just like those phenomenal live sets, this new album features the expected soaring harmonies backed by lush and at times almost orchestral instrumentation that includes not only the usual guitar, bass, and drums, but also organ and violin. At the same time, like many of their label mates on Bella Union, the band plays with volume and tone throughout the album, so that many of the songs seem to consist of distinct movements that ebb and flow from one highlight to another.

Apparently, My Latest Novel conceived as Deaths & Entrances as a singular piece, which perhaps accounts for why the individual songs meld together so seamlessly. As an example, the record begins with All In All In All Is All, which in itself begins with a slow ambient soundscape that shatters into a driving, richly textured tune that has at least 3 separate vocal lines flowing throughout. Then at about 3 minutes, the voices come together into a definitive chorus that leads to an instrumental swell as both the volume and layering increase before the tune then ebbs slightly into a folksy harmony. It's a particularly lush song that feels like it has at least three movements, and the final gentle swell melds almost without a pause into the slowish Dragonhide, which again begins with gentle guitar strumming, aching violin, and reverby drums. And the cycle then repeats itself, albeit with a bit more syncopation in the beat and with a bit more catharsis in the harmonies.

After that opening, I have to admit that I was a little underwhelmed by slightly folksy, slightly proggy Lacklustre, but that's likely a matter of personal taste. And even that moment is wiped away by naked vocal emotion and pretty melody found on the next tune, I Declare A Ceasefire. Still the best tunes on the record, to my mind, are the ones that build and change as the song progress, such as the almost epic Argument Against the Man. Unlike most of the songs, this tune begins loudly, with effected instrumentation and alternating gravelly vocals matched with the occasional higher second voice. The richness of the sound continues to build until the middle bridge, when a harder sounding electric guitar chimes in, providing extra musical tension. Likewise, at a later point on the record, Hopelessly Endlessly starts relatively slowly, but gradually more voices come in and more instruments build up as things swell and swell further until it busts apart into the final echoing notes of the tune. These two are perhaps my favorite songs on Deaths & Entrances, probably because they have the most soar inside the tune and play the most with their internal tone.

The album ends with the one-two offering of Re-Appropriation of the Meme and the The Greatest Shakedown. This first song sounds almost like a hymn as it begins with a simple piano and voice melody. But, like so many of My Latest Novel's songs, it then becomes faster pasted and more insistent as the music progresses and other instruments and voices chime in. Similarly, The Greatest Shakedown starts with quietly gentle harmonies among the band members over a nicely warm sounding tune. Then, the song gradually speeds up courtesy of a quickening bassline and cymbal taps as the voices become more insistent. Finally, just as the song seems to be softening down into its conclusion, every instrument and voice powerfully chimes in as the music become more insistent and driven, before things finally fall into an utter quiet.

Every time I listen to Deaths & Entrances, as the last notes fade away, I'm shocked by the sudden silence. You see, My Latest Novel have created their own world and their music inevitably weaves something akin to a spell on the listener. Based on that, and just the richness of the recording, I'm sure that once this record is available in general release in the United States (and not just as an import), somebody will listen and say it reminds them of Arcade Fire, or one of those bands. I can almost hear it myself, but yet I also hear something much more accessible and uplifting and, in the end, gloriously beautiful. I think that's why, as it stand now, Deaths & Entrances is my favorite release of 2009.

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Also on EvilSponge:
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    Festival Appearance: SxSW07 on Sat.17.Mar.07
    Festival Appearance: SxSW09 on Thu.19.Mar.09


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