Sunday, March 20, 2011
I don't normally review records on here, but Ambiguous Records sent this one over and it was just too good not to write about at length...
Alice Gun – Blood and Bone
Alice Gun is a promising newcomer to the music scene. And that’s an understatement. To make it clearer: picture it’s 1994 and you’ve just seen an ‘unknown’ named Cat Power. Or picture it’s 2000 and you’ve just seen two sisters named Tegan and Sara performing their album ‘This Business of Art’ at a small club. Or (just one more, I promise) picture it’s 2003 and you’ve just heard a girl called Feist singing with Broken Social Scene. Getting a clear picture here? That’s what being introduced to the music of Alice Gun at this point in time is like. You’re right there at the beginning of something you know is going to bloom into something big. Needless to say Alice Gun is a singer-songwriter with enormous potential.
Alice Gun’s first album ‘ Blood and Bone’ is as solid a debut as you’re going to find from a singer-songwriter in recent years. Does it have signs of being a new artists first album proper? Well, yes, but note the above-mentioned artists: they all took a minute to hit their stride and when they did there was no going back. But first and foremost we are here to focus on the positives, and this album oozes positives. If I had to give a few reference points I would say think of a female Tom Waits meets Cat Power. In fact, Alice has a little bit of Kate Bush heiress quality to her too. Note: I said a bit; Kate’s a hard act to follow.
As for ‘Blood and Bone’, it opens with “Horrible Soul” and instantly we get a sense of the dramatic almost theatrical approach to songwriting. The lyrics introduce us to Alice’s self-deprecating side, a recurring theme within her songs, and also have a highly personalized quality that borders on confrontational; think Perfume Genius, Bright Eyes, Morrissey - artists that throw their observations about life in your face, horrify you, then beg you to disagree knowing full well you can’t. From there we are on to “The Swimmer” which starts with aggressive, muted strings hovering over big sounding percussion that has a nice loose quality to it. Many of the songs feature Alice’s vocals and playing right up front but the additional instrumentation is wonderful, layering the songs with as minimal additions as possible. It makes the record worth repeating to see the little nuances that each player adds to the songs. It’s as if by adding minimally it’s easier to see each instruments contribution clearly. It also for a more poetic approach to songwriting in that each player has to say a lot with as few notes as possible. Whether this approach was incidental or by design, it serves the record very well.
“Not Made for this world” serves as particular standout, as does “Metal Spider” and Alice has done well to highlight these tracks as they seem to be the early sneak peeks at the album. They both have the feeling of being singles but also do well to represent her overall style.
If “Not Made for this World” is Alice at her most vulnerable//insecure then "What Can I get Me” is Alice at her most abrasive, and she wears it just as well.
Title track “Blood and Bone” is fittingly the albums grandest statement with its big strings and percussive swells. Again, there’s a little bit of Kate Bush dramatics to the piece.
Album closers “Minty Fresh” and “ Bad Maths” are both well-constructed songs with strong lyrics but play as little bit more staid than the rest of the songs. And this brings me to my one complaint: I like Alice’s quirky side, thus I don’t want to hear her play it safe. All of the artists I mentioned in the first paragraph have thrived on their somewhat oddball personas. From another artist these two tracks would play as fine, but for an album this bold to suddenly get reserved in terms of its musical ambitions feels like a bit of a lateral move into the wrong field. Sure it proves that Alice can play it safe and ‘gets’ the genres she plays with, but it’s not at all necessary. And just to be clear: I am only speaking about two songs out of twelve, so as the only complaints to be made, they are fairly small in contrast to the enormous potential on display here.
Alice Gun’s debut is a strong one and something tells me as the year progresses we are going to be hearing more and more about her, and deservedly so. I hope this one finds its audience because I think what Alice is able to do is rare: she has the ability of writing songs that are highly personalized yet can reach a broader audience without signs of compromise. You have to know yourself AND know your audience to achieve that symbiosis. Personally, I can’t wait for Alice’s second album. A weird thing to say when this record has yet to be released, I know; but ‘Blood and Bone’ is a record that makes clear Alice Gun is just getting started and has barely scratched the surface. Something tells me the deeper we go with Alice’s material the harder she is going to be to ignore. ‘Blood and Bone’ is an important first step and, as an album, one not to be missed for 2011.
Alice Gun - Not Made For This World (Single Edit) by ambiguousrecords