...The Corner of Miles and Gil
t’s both premature and presumptuous to be saying things like “album of the year!” in May, and generally I’m not keen on “albums of the year!” either because consensus almost always dictates that something everybody quite likes rather than something that a few people really love ends up taking the plaudits. That’s democracy for you though.
Nevertheless, ...The Corner of Miles and Gil probably will end up being my album of the year come December, with Jenny Lewis & The Watson Twins’ marvelous Rabbit Fur Coat close behind. Because it’s that good.
This is the point where I talk about lost master tapes, drug addiction, burning studios, collapsing record labels, gigs with Arthur Lee, and how Shack would be huge if only none of the above had happened (except the Arthur Lee thing—although, thinking about it…), how they’re the best, and I really mean The Best, post-Love, post-Byrds, post-Nick Drake, and post-Beatles band to do that post-Love, post-Byrds, post-Nick Drake, and post-Beatles thing. And now they’ve added post-Miles Davis and Gil Evans to that list. I’ll explain in a bit.
It’s evident though, that despite their brilliance, Shack need a helping hand from their more successful peers. Last time out, ...Here’s Tom with the Weather was released by (ex-Stone Roses guitarist) John Squire’s North Country records. This time it’s the turn of Noel Gallagher to play philanthropist, and Shack’s fifth album in 18 years (counting 1997’s Strands project as Shack) comes out on his Sour Mash imprint. Two northern brothers, classic songwriting… it makes sense. But Shack are better than Oasis have ever been.
It’s important to stress that Shack are actually a band and not just two brothers (Mick and John Head) and whoever else turns up—sticksman Iain Templeton has played on every record they’ve released including The Magical World of the Strands, even if they have had more bassists than Spinal Tap had drummers, and while the supporting cast of trumpeters, flutists, string sections and producers might change every record too, the Shack “sound” could be patented tomorrow pretty much, so strong is their aesthetic. It’s in the way they strum their guitars, perhaps.
This time the evergreen trio are joined by Pete Wilkinson (formerly of Cast) on bass, but the real addition is the Tarleton & District Brass Band and the Light Fantastic String Quartet. The album title is to be taken literally, you see—...The Corner of Miles and Gil is an album of classy, outrageously tuneful Liverpool+West Coast guitar pop augmented by that classic 50s Miles Davis massed-jazz-band sound. Factor in Mick Head’s predilection for lyrical vignettes about dirty suburban characters and that means that, yes, opener “Tie Me Down” actually is a song about S&M done in a Sketches of Spain style, as crazed as that seems.
...The Corner of Miles and Gil isn’t just about distant, rousing trumpets and string sections though—there are a plethora of extraordinary guitar riffs and fills from younger Head John too, particularly the thrilling, triplicate “8 Miles High”-meets-”Your Mind & We Belong Together” break on “Black & White,” and the irresistible lines of “Cup of Tea.” But there’s also the hushed and delicate beauty of “Shelley Brown,” the slow-burning, mysterious epic scale of “Find A Place,” and the beguiling paean to Aussie soap Home & Away that is “Finn, Sophie, Bobby & Lance.” When the Miles & Gil influence does kick in properly though, such as on the exultant “Moonshine,” it really takes your breath away. The nearest comparison is probably Nixon-era Lambchop.
As if this wasn’t enough, it’s all beautifully recorded too—location-specific rimshots and fingerclicks as lovingly positioned as caterwauling sax solos, and the usual Shack guitar sound present as ever, lovingly rich and emotive. ...The Corner of Miles and Gil is comfortably better than ...Here’s Tom with the Weather and HMS Fable. It’s probably better than Waterpistol too, and might just be as good as The Magical World of the Strands. I love this record already, even after just a few days.