The pull of a good story or a tale of the tortured genius, or the insane recluse has always been seductive to music fans. Bon Iver gets dumped by his bird, goes off to a cabin in the woods up a mountain somewhere in the middle of nowhere and writes an album about it – city dwelling music fans go insane. Jeff Mangum records, what I too regard, one of the best albums ever (Neutral Milk Hotel’s “In The Aeroplane Over The Sea”) and is hardly heard of again – the odd sighting here and there – and not another note recorded. Is he insane? Does he live in a cave with Kevin Shields trying to recreate the sound of angels crying? The myth grows, as does the stature of the music.
I’ve been listening to “Method” by 30 Pounds Of Bone now for weeks, long enough that the facts about Johnny Lamb (it’s a one man band) no longer get in the way of the beautiful collection of songs that make up the album. Still, before I attempt to describe the moving beauty of the album, let’s get the facts out there.
He’s the son of a clergyman, brought up on the remote isle of Unst in the Shetland isles, a childhood obsessed with the sea and the fisheries that surrounded him. He once spent so long in the hospital as a child, he was made to go to school there – leaving with one kidney. He now lives in a van on the Lizard peninsula in Cornwall, and can most often be found in- or on- the sea. Notoriously prickly and utterly unapproachable – unless armed with copious amounts of whiskey – he’s basically a drunk travelling vagrant – pinned down only for the four days that it took to record “Method” upon which he played all the instruments.
“Method” isn’t so easy to describe easily – it veers from sparse folk, to soft and sad sea shanties, to the occasional layered guitar freak out. There’s the sad accordion of King Creosote, some of the fuzz of Neutral Milk Hotel, amid tales of loss at sea and gallons and gallons of alcohol. Oh yeah, the booze – oh the booze! This album is soaked in it. Drowning in the false hope of the first few shots, the accordion squeezes the dripping whiskey out on every push, as the sodden trumpet cries last orders at the bar.
Lamb has a good emotional range to his voice, and a story-tellers nature with it – this isn’t a record of dirges by any means. In fact he’s pulled that great trick, disguising some perfect catchy three-minute almost-pop songs, in such heart rending broke-down messed up folk trappings that stick in your head and demand repeat listens. My favourite songs on this album have changed many times over the last few weeks, which is a sign of a fab record.
The opener (above) to the record is “Crack Shandy In The Harbour” - a recounting of when Lamb worked in a Plymouth cafe where the local Narcotics Anonymous held their meetings, nipping out as they did for a crack shandy (heroin & crack smoked together). The song, catchy as heck, puts a modern spin on the folk tradition and finishes within the perfect pop timing of three minutes, painting a vivid and desolate picture of that time in the singer’s life. “I’m lonely” he sings, and you relate, “…for crack shandy, in the harbour” – and you’re completely thrown.
There’s one cover on the record, “All For Me Grogg” – a traditional song I wasn’t familiar with, one that seems to be a perky staple in sets of bands like the Dubliners. “Where’s my shoes” they sing, and it gets a laugh. When Lamb reinterprets this, it’s the saddest lament for a life out of control that I’ve ever heard. Amazing.
“The Fishery” (above) sings about “send fables down, cables down” into a storm of guitars and you know he’s drowning not waving from a sea that will “take me in…over and over… I never learnt to swim”.
Unless Shields and Mangum release that collaboration I mentioned earlier in the next few weeks, I can’t see how this isn’t going to be my album of the year. Ten stunning songs, in less than 40 minutes. it’s a treasure chest of sad beauty, taken under as the ship sank, miles from home and very alone. Alone but for the sailors’ grogg.
“Method” by 30 Pounds Of Bone is available from the cracking indie label Armellodie Records (you can hear all the songs from the record there too), only 7 quid in a sweet cardboard sleeve, out on the 6th of December.