The more the merrier seems to be Edinburgh-based Meursault’s motto for their long-anticipated album Crow Hill, which blends a kaleidoscope of musical experimentations with mini narratives from a fictive small town.
Once described by the band’s founder Neil Pennycook as ‘epic lo-fi’, his hard-to-tag music now leans more to the former than the latter. There is an innocent if not twee touch to the breezy banjo-plucking and piano-tinkling woven into many songs, which immediately made me think of iPhone commercials where feet in close-up walk in slo-mo across a glamorously dusty road already pre-swept by Owl City. But before I’m quick to judge, Meursault is just as quick to add winter-is-coming-style flakes of gloom, imaginary radio news fragments, a dollop of ambient and drops of feral oddities – what a concoction!
There is a healthy dose of Sigur Rós-y splendour in Crow Hill, a credit that can partially go to Meursault’s audio mastering engineer Mandy Parnell, who already honed the sound of Björk, Feist and Frightened Rabbit. While some of Pennycook’s melodies can be unsurprising at best and generic at worst (Nakhala Dog, which has a quirky narrative about a dog vaporised by a meteorite fragment, could be heard in an elevator), his genuine, untamed voice gives texture where the arrangements stay flat.
Even the somewhat stilted literary pathos of the line ‘Woe is me – well, fuck you’ in Beaten is delivered with an unambiguous candour I raise my hat to. Some experimentations bubble tepidly (The gothic guitar in The Beast has a whiff of teenage garage rock to it), others come out with a bright spark: Carry On, Carrion is a proper magic potion of Pennycook’s fragile vocal crackle blended into a soothing lullaby for grown-ups. Halfway through the song, there’s some sensitively placed distortion that sounds like an elephant howling on Saturn’s rings. The intimate cover of Hank Williams’ I Heard My Mother Praying for Me is a folk lover’s delight, supported by Robyn Dawson’s beautifully slurred violin and raw vocal accompaniment. After the dark romanticist anger interspersed with yelling guinea pigs that is Jenifer, the final track The Unreliable Narrator closes with an unexpected feeling of release, as Pennycook’s mantra ‘I see for miles’ hits against a maelstrom of synth-based ingredients, Dawson’s violin, ambient glory – an ending that gradually melts away like a boat on the horizon. Epic.
Crow Hill is out on 21st June, via Common Grounds Records