MORTON VALENCE – Another Country (Bastard Recordings BR11)

Another CountryNodding to the desert moods of Giant Sand and Mark Lanegan and the urban claustrophobia of The Cowboy Junkies, the London based five piece, part named from a town in Gloucestershire, are fronted by the dual vocals of Robert Jessett and Anne Gilpin, once described as Belle & Sebastian on acid.

They set out the stall for this, their fourth album, with ‘Chinatown’, an appropriately film noirish number that comes with a mood-setting reverb guitar instrumental prologue, proceeding to unfurl tales of the city and its inhabitants, the 11 vignettes interspersed with five instrumental segues that veer from the spooked minimalist ambience of ‘Old Town’ and the empty desert wind chime atmosphere of ‘Kawasaki Blues’ to the electric guitar and feedback storms of ‘The Man Most Likely’ and, despite its seagulls intro, ‘Flying’.

The songs themselves often adopt a narrative form, ‘First Night’ a particularly brooding reflection on the aftermath of the 2011 London riots from the perspective of someone caught up in the madness, although, by contrast, the Lalo Schifrin-inspired ‘The Hawkline Discotheque’ with its itchy funky guitar riff and greasy brass is much more of a mood snapshot of night in the city.

Matters of the heart aren’t forgotten. Sharing verses, the slow swaying brass embellished ‘The Whole Of This Town’ etches a resigned heartbreak while two other duets, ‘Old Love Letters’ and the waltzing ‘Table For One’, pretty much describe themselves. And if the former sees Gilpin’s hushed, smoky delivery evoking Margo Timmins, her spotlight turn on steel-streaked heartbreak waltz ‘A Tear For Every Year’ calls Kirsty MacColl to mind.

Elsewhere, Jessett on lead, the dreamy ‘Kawasaki Drifter’ reprises their shoegaze influences with a tinkling keyboard line that recalls ‘First Cut Is The Deepest’ while the sparse ‘Everything Will Be OK’, Gilpin in the spotlight, builds to a widescreen cinematic close. Echoing its title and sardonic optimism, the stoned, swayalong ‘Everything’s Going Our Way’, with its echoey pedal steel, sees things out on another duet as the characters set out on the open road to the valley of pleasure with a quarter tank of diesel, and a final laugh. Grab a passport and join them.

Mike Davies

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