Thursday, 22 May 2014

REVIEW: Montague Black, Meat on the Bone

Album artwork by Alice Woodroffe

Montague Black, Meat on the Bone, 2014

1. Meat on the Bone
2. Country Girl
3. Lancelot

From the very outset to Meat on the Bone, Montague Black presents itself as a highly capable outfit. The opening sequence of guitars, bass and saxophones acts as a kind of fanfare for the rest of the EP and also sets the benchmark for quality on this recording, wherein all the instruments manage to retain an excellent level of clarity, as well as the lead vocals themselves.

Although the term ‘skronk’ has been thrown around by promoters in descriptions of the band – though not by the band itself – these three songs demonstrate a remarkable level of control and conviction, asserting the highly attuned abilities of Montague Black’s members, not to mention their intuitive assembly on record (and on stage: see my review of their Power Lunches gig below).

The EP’s title track, ‘Meat on the Bone’ truly is a rallying statement of intent, and is reminiscent of the opening of ‘I Can’t Stand Myself’ by James Chance and the Contortions. The song is structured by strong instrumental passages that allow every instrument its moment of prescience, interspersed with a trademark crooning vocal delivery. The track stops pretty abruptly following a wonderful see-sawing instrumental part, and the cut-off feels a little too sharp given the way that the rest of the music is allowed to unravel effortlessly.

However, the eerie guitar tones of ‘Country Girl’ then creep in before giving way to some truly dissonant guitar textures. Layers of instruments slowly enter the mix in the form of drums and various forms of percussion, which lend the introduction a sparse, vaguely tribal No Wave quality and frame the vocal delivery. When the rest of the ensemble seamlessly enter the song at about a minute in, it is a hugely satisfying moment. This is namely because, with such a complex set-up of vocals, two guitars, bass, keyboard, two saxophones, and various modes of percussion, it could be all too easy for something to get lost in the recording. However, as clever as the band is at avoiding it live, it is reassuring to hear it similarly transpire on record. The keyboards are especially funky and dance in and out of the guitar and bass parts, and the overture of saxophones succeed in adding extra muscle to the meat on the bone.

‘Lancelot’ is probably the most straightforward song on the EP, and seems to be framed more by the lyrics than the music, at least in comparison to the other two tracks. The guitar freak-out at about two and a half minutes in however, is a very welcome interlude, and is quickly followed by a discordant saxophone shriek that cuts through the layers of sound temporarily before surrendering to the rich, heavy bass line. When the vocals stutter and shriek abstractly against the washes of sound that finish the song and the record, the EP ends on nothing less than a brilliant final note and a fitting accumulation of Montague Black’s marriage of raw dissonant tones and controlled, highly skilled musicianship.

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