One thing that is certain, Miranda Lee Richards has created in Existential Beast an album of some astonishing beauty. Profound of lyrics, gorgeous in the playing, sung with a voice which embodies an unearthly allure. Every song has an emotional resonance, a soul satisfying lyrical depth, even as Miranda Lee Richards dances elegantly and effortlessly across styles, claiming each one as representing her own special musical affinity, before pirouetting to another with which she sounds as equally at home.
Opener Ashes and Seeds is moistened with sorrowful tears for the world bequethed by the previous generation, whilst shot through with a steel determination to make the attempt to wrestle the big problems down “Oh mother it bothers me this march with complacency / oh father have you heard about it all? / Well I didn’t make these problems / but by them I’m burdened” she sings. Even though Richards acknowledges that “history repeats and repeats” that doesn’t give her the choice to opt out of caring, or to choose easy solutions “Would that make me feel better? / To sign angry letters ? Endless causes arising from the spring / If I want to help start with myself”. It’s a rallying call. Follow on The Wildwood moves effortlessly from Ashes and Seeds‘ quiet thoughtfulness to a wild heavy folk-rocker: it’s like the anglophile Hazards of Love era Decemberists infected with the mellotron wildness of early Hawkwind. It’s a groover, and Miranda Lee Richards is at her most vocally ethereal singing like a half observed dryad – alluring and somewhat threatening at the same time. Beautiful.
Golden Gate is a full dive into rock Laurel Canyon style, a blissed out piece of optimism – offering a vision of a beautiful world that’s there to be grasped…just reach out, it’s within touching distance. And then the song launches off into the stratosphere, arcing away across the sky as Richards offers a subliminal deprogramming from the weight of the world. It’s spiritual, but not demonstrably tied to any theism – other than hippy optimism, and optimism shouldn’t be seen as a negative thing. Other songs are equally mind expanding whilst being simple in structure – acoustic guitar filtered into a dream state – right up to the epic closer, the twelve minute confessional Another World. Through twenty two verses Miranda Lee Richards expounds her philosophy of a better world, and her fears for her country as it teeters on the brink of a descent into darkness “In God we can no longer trust / Defending the values of an old Republic / A crisis of consciousness”. There’s little doubt of what she is thinking of, what disaster is stalking the land of her birth “Robber barons and plunderers / Who take no prisoners / The jest is now upon us / We bow our head; by fools we are led”. It’s simple music, but not simplistic. It illumines the danger, and shows the golden path out of peril. Another World is a bold and brave polemic, Utopian – yes, but is perfection such a poor thing to strive for?
Essential Beast is an album that grows and grows with successive relistens. At first it seems just wonderful, a beautiful dreamy confection, but is soon revealed as both superb and subtly layered. Few albums as good as this pass our way – and this reveals that Miranda Lee Richards is just growing in her abilities, although the unimaginable better than this would have discerning music listeners fainting in the streets from the demonstrable beauty.
Existential Beast is a big, absorbing and sonically wonderful album. Miranda Lee Richards has created an image of perfection to strive for, and it is in itself perfect.