All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace
hat Martin Carr does all comes back to Pop, that most loaded and loosely defined of musical terms. Pop, to me, is not about being ‘popular’ or about Rachel Stevens showing off her love pillows or even about big eyebrowed pretty boys with guitars co-writing their songs with aging studio writers. It’s always been Pop, as in songs with melodies like big hairy ginger nuts. And, like all the best art, good Pop expresses something so personal and intimate that its honesty has the ability to go pandemic.
Although he picked out a very long, strangely pretty but unwieldy title borrowed from a Richard Brautigan poem, this release comes in at a very old school C90 friendly length (that’s just under forty five minutes for you goggle eyed iPod owners). Condensing the wider reach of the sprawling tentacles of his musically ding-a-ling mind into a ten track album is a smart move, if also one of the very few faults (it leaves you wanting more when something’s going very right). Maybe the amount of ideas and twists that he could’ve used to fill a longer, or even a double album, would’ve just left heads spinning and chins drool drenched. But there’s no short-changing here: there’s something like 999 things going on as opposed to his usual 1001.
There’s an obvious self-assurance on AWOBMOLG that’s been increasingly evident on his recent EP releases; a sense of things coming together and evolving into a sound that seems unhurried, unprompted and, best of all, natural. Whereas in the past some of Carr’s productions haven’t really gelled with the sheer breadth of contrasting styles (which usually clashed noisily to the detriment of the tunes), here he melds them perfectly into one glorious stream. “Into Thin Air"’s homemade acoustic strum and chunky bleeps blend several genres into something simple and natural, despite the closing vocoder robotics and pirate radio beats. The songs are conventional, in terms of basic structure, but Carr keeps things ticking into the extraordinary with enough left turns and glitches to both jar and satisfy. Like many of his creative electronic abusing peers he uses these beats, loops and rhythms to provide actual counter patterns of melody as opposed to some of his more rock minded peers who use them as accoutrement or to hit a certain annoying demographic.
It shouldn’t be a surprise, then, that there are parts on the album which feel like he’s been taking notes from the recent wave of pastoral electronica, where scratchy idm beats meet itchy bearded acoustic string plucking in a nice meadow with factory sounds on the distant horizon. Where much of that genre drifted aimlessly on loops and echoes, though, Bravecaptain ably anchors these atmospheric flashes within AWOBMOLG’s bright arrangements. This August release is well timed music for the summer, though not in the clichéd Thrills flummery summertime songs about Sunshine, beaches and girls way. It’s, instead, more appropriate for clear days, open minds and cool beers. Carr talks loneliness, life, joy and personal politics, deliberately avoiding wool-gathering or the delivery of harsh homilies.
The one major flaw of the album is a certain piece of sequencing wherein the album’s only dark and gloomy piece, "Bethesda" comes smack-bang-wallop in-between two particularly happy sounding tracks; “Good Life” and “Little Giant”. It’s easy to appreciate the concept of having an obvious flipside to the nicer side of musical life but its placing stalls the gathering momentum dead in its tracks. "Good Life" reunites Martin with ex- band mate, Eggman and vocalist Sice. It’s also, predictably, the closest that AWOBMOLG comes to the straightforward sonic palette that UK radio is likely to approve of. As nice as it is to think of them recording together again, Carr’s voice has improved greatly from his early Bravecaptain releases and it would’ve made more sense for him to have rocked this joint instead of his old pal. The affectionately humoured perky dub of “Little Giant” may have been the ideal antidote to “Bethesda” if not for the fact that it’s criminally and confusingly short at only two minutes long.
No big name producers, no wacky news stories for the press, no semi-famous mates helping out and no free posters; just Pop music.
STYLUSMAGAZINE.COM’S ALBUM OF THE WEEK – AUGUST 1, 2004 – AUGUST 8, 2004
Reviewed by: Scott McKeating
Reviewed on: 2004-08-02