Wednesday, 6 February 2013

REVIEW: Black Reindeer - A Difficult Third Album

After announcing the end of Babybird last year, cult hero Stephen Jones became Black Reindeer. The first two albums from this project were world away from the twisted pop songs that he was best known for, yet they maintained the high musical standards of this unique artist, a true one-off with a distinctive style all of his own. Largely instrumental, and consisting of soundtrack-like pieces, this was the sort of music that Jones has always considered his personal favourite. Despite selling over two million records worldwide, Jones has never compromised the intelligence of his music for the mainstream, and has a deep hatred of mass marketed blandness.

The latest Black Reindeer LP is a departure from the first two, and demonstrates an evolution. It's more varied, more defined, there are rare vocals, and the music has began to soak up traces of Jones's other project Death Of The Neighbourhood. This is immediately apparent on the opening 'Here', and the excellent 'Broke' with its unsettling falsetto, slow hip hop beats and eerie jazz samples. 'Stupid' even sees the first appearance of guitars on a Black Reindeer record. Hints of DOTN's softer side have also infiltrated the gorgeous ambience of 'Away', where a soft, fragmented vocal floats around irresistibly pretty piano.

But the filmic atmosphere of the previous BR albums is still the prominent characteristic of this project, as is proved by 'Happy''s tragic beauty, and the sweeping sadness of 'No Sleep', where the drums sound like they're gasping for air. With its birdsong and brilliantly crafted beats, 'Tripper' steps into brighter territory, and elsewhere 'No Filter' and its album-closing reprise 'It's All Bullshit' conjure up feelings that mourn for lost innocence. The intensely sinister vibe of 'Gone' is like the score for the most chilling horror movie you could ever dream of,  while the short and stunning 'Drinker' is so easy to lose yourself in. The brilliantly titled 'Dig Up The Pervert' is calm, but certainly not relaxing due to that disturbing edge embedded into the mood, and like the rest of this album, 'Unharmed' is beautiful and hugely immersive.

Overall it's the strongest and most complete sounding Black Reindeer album yet. Prolific as ever, Jones has further plans for this year that include another DOTN record, a possible solo album under his own name, and maybe more Black Reindeer recordings. Good to hear he's keeping busy. Long may this magical music continue. Like the previous albums, it's available digitally, but this time round Jones is releasing an ultra-limited run of 50 handmade CDs.

4/5






'A Difficult Third Album' can be heard and downloaded at http://thestephenjones.bandcamp.com/

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