Two sides of Mr Hignell’s oeuvre-coin here – first, his math-rock (ish) band affair, and second his more ambient/home listening outings.
Some Cartographers is the hopefully final name the band previously known at various points in the last six months as (deep breath) Bygrayvpartynmyrytarm, Tourist killed in Shark attack and Mockery Goggles. I’m not sure if it’s me being a miserable bastard or if the song titles don’t do the actual songs justice – to be honest, I do wonder if there really is any reasonable excuse for calling a song “(As long as there is evil in this world I will destroy it with my) bird missiles.” I can understand taking the piss out of over-wrought post-rock/math-rock bands. This doesn’t do that though.Anyway. This is all immaterial, because it’s the songs that count, not the titles, right? Yes, right. I’m just bitter. The songs are great. Ignore the titles, remember this: GREAT SONGS.
What we have here is a band doing a great many things that not many people are doing. On the surface it’s a bit math rock, elaborately constructed songs with extended instrumental sections, key and time signature changes and whatnot. But there’s not an ounce of ‘aren’t we clever?’ music student wankery here – any time changes to the songs fit into a general ‘arc’ of the song, and there’s a real sense of maintaining thematics across a piece. Guitarist Jamie‘s parts are intricate little miniatures of harmonic exploration, which leave Dann (vocals) and Huw (drums) enough freedom and space to lay down their own licks n’ lyrics.
This is a record that has one of my all-time favourite things for a band to do – drummers not being drum machines but allowed to play it like it’s a real instrument. Which it is. The aforementioned “…bird missiles” does this great job of sounding like a torch song featuring an oversized, hyperactive ant having a poly-limbed seizure in front of a drumkit. Elsewhere there’s elements of 80s-style theatrics – 12 minute opener “Pulpit Parenthetis Sandcastle” somehow going through a million changes, hitting the button marked ‘a bit This Heat,’ detour through blissy space pop, disco section and a nicely held outro sounding like Tom Waits wasting time in the asylum.I’ve followed Hignell’s work for… ooh, a decade nearly, and his lyrics are some of the best around – genteel miniature”I find your small hands attractive” obliquely referencing Sinead O’Connor, newspaper hysteria and political apathy under a gorgeous, nearly doo-wop backing.
I could go on a bit longer about this, but essentially the bottom line is if you like intelligent, poppy rock music which doesn’t sacrifice intelligence for melodies, this is the record you’re after.
Daniel Alexander Hignell‘s solo A Goddamn Amusement Park is a very different record indeed – a lush and throbbing soundscape with a genuinely odd sense of narrative. It kind of feels like a sort of agonised inertia – it was apparently inspired by a quite literal sense of just the things in the room it was composed, rather than the usual soundscape-y, home listening sense of exotic locations far away from grotty bedsits. So it ends up being a kind of glamorisation of boredom. For the most part, it’s well down low in the BPM stakes, but feels somehow faster – close to that feeling of being bored because you’re waiting for something to happen. It’s definitely a bizarre statement to say that a record ‘captures boredom’ whilst still being deeply gripping.I think it’s a sense of delayed gratification – sections seem to build, almost doom-style, into something, but slowly decline into earlier forms. Naked ideas, motifs, get accentuated and then stripped right back again. The difference between this and a genuinely boring record, then, are that it’s utterly confident and assured in its capacity for tension, rather than playing on some clichéd ideas of ‘how electronic music creates tension.’ It spends most of the record coming in and out of sparse, grubby and bleak textures before, in one of the most peculiar turns, developing into something like a broken trance record. Brilliant.
A Goddamn Amusement Park is, again, one of those records which doesn’t really deserve to be languishing in no-where’s ville – and on the strength of both of these records, I’d say it’s worth getting a hold of them before Hignell’s a much better-established name.