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Walk the River – some longer impressions

21/04/2011

By now, it’s starting to become clear that those who still cling to the hope of Guillemots creating an identical follow-up to Through the Windowpane will end up with disappoinment time and time again as the band continues to move forward. If anything, the unfairly much-maligned Red showed what the real Guillemots actually sound like. Through the Windowpane was essentially frontman Fyfe Dangerfield’s child, where the band merely helped him to flesh his songs out. Red on the other hand was the first outing of Guillemots as a band, sharing writing credits and bouncing off on eachother’s ideas. It was messy, admittedly: while I’m one of the few people who actually liked Red, it’s blatantly clear that it’s an incoherent, rambling album that did a lot of things as if to experiment with borders. In retrospect, it acted a lot like a practice round for the band.

In that respect, Walk the River is the sound of the band behind Red moving away from the practice stage, putting together what they’ve learned along the way and creating a cohesive statement of what they’re about. In stylistic terms, there isn’t really anything in Walk the River that we haven’t heard before – if you know your Guillemots, you know Walk the River. But after the somewhat messy nature of Red, Walk the River shows once again what the band can do when they commits themselves to a goal and fully focus on it. In that way, it is another Windowpane even if there is very little in common between Windowpane’s life-affirming vibrancy and Walk the River’s hazy, moody soundscapes.

Because that’s where Walk the River properly establishes its own identity. While the style is familiarly Guillemots, Walk the River’s approach to that style is to emphasise the band’s knack for crafting sonic soundscapes, building an atmosphere and allowing the songs to take time to establish themselves. Most of Walk the River’s songs reach around five minutes and two of its cuts move closer to nine minutes: they’re songs that aren’t in a hurry to go anywhere. While still clearly pop music, it’s something that gives an ample opportunity to sink into and zone out on. On a couple of occasions – the floating “Inside” and lengthily dreaming “Sometimes I Remember Wrong” that doesn’t have a single wasted minute – it’s all the songs are about.

The greatest thing however is how wonderful it is to hear the band so focused on the music again: each moment of each song is treated with love and care, with a golden ear for detail. After the “throw it on the wall and see what sticks” approach of Red and the slightly undercooked ideas of Fyfe’s solo album from last year, it’s downright refreshing to hear the band so concentrated again, and it comes out as the sort of genuine excitement and passion that originally acted as Guillemots’ main feature. The opening steps of the album make it clear: “Walk the River” and “Vermillion” are the best Guillemots-related things since Windowpane, the former in its downright majestic melancholy and the latter in its ingeniusly addictive drive, build-up and melody. It becomes fairly clear why “The Basket” was chosen as the lead single – its take on the over-the-top love song, complete with a chorus that is filled with unashamed joy, is so reminiscent of the similar calling card statement of “Made Up Lovesong #43” that its status as a lead-off for the album could be seen as an indicator that the band’s back on full-steam.

Walk the River stumbles in small places: “The Ice Room” is a bit of a noisy mess where the good ideas are outweighed by the slightly less good ones, and there’s the occasional somewhat distracting lyrical weirdness (I still have no idea what the titular baskets of “The Basket” are supposed to be about). The rest is a rewarding, excellent listen. It’s not a return to form, because I despise that term with a passion and even if I’m adamant at pointing out Red’s flaws I’m still very much a fan of that album ie the form never went away. But it is a return to that extra touch of clarity the debut had: not only great songs, but also a great feeling of something magical in the air. I also can’t say that Walk the River is another Windowpane because that album’s value for me is too personally high for most things to come even close to it, but we’re talking about a high-quality album that’s captivating and addictive. Seeing as 2011 seems to be raining with releases, the power for something to capture so much that it becomes the top of the priority list even when there’s other things to listen, especially if it’s something you’ve already been listening to a month (much love to Guillemots promo team), is an even greater sign of quality than normally.

Basically, it’s a really really bloody good album and if this doesn’t get people to believe in Guillemots again, people are quite frankly planks.

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