Over the course of three albums (four if you count the instrumental Electronic Sketches) and two EPs, West Yorkshire songwriter John Elliott has become the bard of mental illness and emotional isolation. Atomise, their first for Reveal, takes its cue from the current climate of division and unrest, but seeks out the pools of light in the darkness, those small moments of connection.
Atomise opens with the evocative line “I dangle from the world/A milk tooth from a gum” on the piano and cello notes of the plaintive ‘Human’ as he sings about the contemporary malaise of drugs overwhelming the sense of self. Fingerpicked guitar and strings guide ‘Screws’ and its sense of mentally drowning and of a lover no longer seeing fairytales but “demons chewing Rorschach butterflies”.
A wash of synths flow through ‘Story’ and its attempt to make sense of things and “stay wired to the brain”, ‘Spiderman’ spinning a web of puttering drums and piano around its images of mortality, conjuring thoughts of Peter Gabriel that spill over into the scratchy textures of watery swirling synths of ‘Music’ as he wryly notes “I’ve got all kinds of suffering/To celebrate.”
The steady rhythm title track soars to an epiphany of “I love you unfathomably” and a resolution to see the world “with clearer eyes” before ‘Road’ travels along pulsating hypnotic percussive beats on a song of driving (literally or metaphorically) to a lover’s side while, the stripped back strummed ‘Ignited’ returns to the feelings of exploiting his struggles and self-doubt for the purpose of art, wary of making them “something cheap and sentimental”.
A heady cocktail of Radiohead and Gabriel with its fidgeting synths and minimal piano. ‘Particles’ dissects a doomed relationship with its “prescription drugs and dead eyes” as cello swells, the musical mood shifting for the brooding, technofunk bass of the rhythmically loping ‘Chain’. The album closes with the skeletal introspective synths and strings of the pensive, pessimistic ‘Moonrise’, quite possibly the only song to feature the word ‘deracinated’, before hope arrives on the heartbeat of the whisperingly tender ‘Willow’ as he sings of how you first have to acknowledge the hurt before the healing can begin and that “you don’t have to fight by yourself”. With all its psychosis, self-examination and the struggle to rise above the crushing doubts and its self-destructive tendencies, art-folk music for the 21st century doesn’t get much better than this.
Artist’s website: www.thelittleunsaid.com
‘Human’ – live: