Valparaiso “Broken Homeland” (Zamora, 2017)

This French collective rose from the corpse of Jack the Ripper (the French Band – named for the Nick Cave song) and provide a particularly Gallic flavoured brand of Americana. The four corners of their world are populated by Giant Sand, Spain (both Howe Gelb and Josh Haden guest), PJ Harvey and the Tindersticks, so it’s slow burning Desert rock with an overcoat and a bucketful of attitude. It’s produced by John Parish (who also appears) and it sounds beautifully organic, suffused with as much atmosphere as a Joseph Conrad novel.

Shannon Wright turns in a typically committed performance for the excellent Bury My Body, which churns with unease, and Wright turns up again along with John Parish on The River where taut strings take us down to the damp foggy banks of the Seine where Louis Malle is filming a Leo Malet novel. The record opens with the increasingly gravelled voice of Howe Gelb, offset by the rather more dulcet Phoebe Killdeer (Nouvelle Vague) and they proceed to swap lines like Isabella Rossellini and Stuart Staples only in a more twisted darker way.

Given that this is very much a collaborative album it’s no surprise that the newly reinvigorated Howe’s performances sound like Howe performances: The Allure of Della Rae contains all of his usual unusual phrasing, sounding as well as he’s sounded for years, and after around three minutes the song breaks down the bass, drums step backwards and there’s a torrent of guitars released a squeaky liquid wash of colour. Josh Haden never sounds unlike Josh Haden and Constellations has all of his usual trademarks, the descending melody and the halting vocals, albeit this time he’s in a dark Parisian cellar rather than his usual haunts.

The spoken word Fireplace with Rosemary Standley (Moriarty) drips with glistening drops of melody when she sings the (kind of) chorus, and the narration sounds like something Luc Besson might dream up, the dream apposite because the weirdness along with the woozy strings makes this seem like it has leaked from the subconscious. The title track features Phoebe Killdeer and features more of the dark type of indie-rock that seems to have passed out of fashion, being replaced by the new orthodoxy of authenticity – well this is authentic, the atmosphere is near tangible, the strings yearn epically. It contains quite an emotional heft.

Killdeer and Wright both emerge with great credit here; the version of Wild Birds (the version below is from an earlier release) is more refined and filled out. This truly is a collaborative work – there is a thread of consistency of aesthetic and texture throughout, always dark and thick with atmosphere. Though each performer provides their own window dressing, the drama is consistent.

 

Author: David Cowling

Punk rock, Go-Betweens, REM, Replacments, Husker Du, Minutemen, Will Oldham, Smog, Whiskeytown, Ass Ponys but probably most of all Howe Gelb, led me on this journey.

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