Recorded at Glasgow’s Chem 19 studio by ex-Delgado Paul Savage, Admiral Fallow’s debut album will warm the cockles of those still lamenting the disbanding of the Mercury nominees, whose wonderful third LP, 2000’s The Great Eastern, remains a north-of-the-border classic. This is a set that mixes melancholic folk with soar-away pop melodies, heartbroken lyricism with insistent guitar motifs, elevating strings with sing-along choruses. It’s simultaneously the most devastatingly downtrodden and the most wonderfully uplifting LP to have passed these ears in some time. It leaves an instant impression: the kind that stirs the listener into playing the record again, right away; and then probably once more.
The band is fronted by Louis Abbott, a songwriter who previously acted as lynchpin in the Brother Louis Collective. That outfit reached the end of its natural course in 2007, and since then the musicians in question have pursued their art under the banner of Admiral Fallow. It’s an intriguing name: one that suggests a mindset that’s happy with an underwhelming lot, content to lead the way towards a certain creative stasis. Ironic, too, as clearly there’s inspiration aplenty at play here. From the very first song, Dead Against Smoking, ambition and ability are presented to the fore with such studied focus that to turn away is impossible. It’s a gentle amble compared to some of what will follow, but more than a meander through indie-folk tradition; the souls here are more swelled with pride, and fear of what can be lost, than those heard steering Mumford & Sons to chart success. Admiral Fallow perhaps have more in common with Fence Collective-leader King Creosote, whose own songs possess a similar blackened-and-bruised charm.
That said, these songs are fuller than any solo artist’s typical fare, rich in layers and deep of textures. Flute, piano, upright bass and clarinet sing out; cello, violin and viola courtesy of the Cairn String Quartet lend additional volume to proceedings. The album’s first left turn comes towards the end of Subbuteo, a nostalgic ode to a time fresh in the mind but left behind by aching bones: after a committed vocal from Abbott – "It might sound dull / But dull is sometime’s all we have" – the piece erupts with an almighty crash of drums and brass. It’s like an Adem album has just been gatecrashed by Arcade Fire.
And on it goes, surprising and enthralling, entrancing through simplicity, through finely crafted material played superbly well. It is, probably, the best album of folk-goes-indie-with-a-Scottish-accent since The Great Eastern. The band never over-stretches itself; Abbott never sings as if his life truly depends on it. And he’s right to do so: there are more important things in this world than songs, of course. But there are plenty of songs here that will perfectly complement the significant moments in your own life.
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