|Sweet Billy Pilgrim ¤¤ Crown and Treaty (2012)|
Sweet Billy Pilgrim ι Crown and Treaty
Location: Aylersbury, England, UK
Album release: April 24, 2012
Record Label: Luxor Purchase
1. Joyful Reunion 5:36
2. Archaeology 5:21
3. Blakefield Gold 4:21
4. Arrived at Upside Down 6:13
5. Blood Is Big Expense 5:33
6. Brugada 4:39
7. Kracklite 6:24
8. Shadow Captain 3:10
9. Blue Sky Falls 8:34 Website: www.sweetbillypilgrim.com
♠ Anthony Bishop - bass
♠ Jana Carpenter - vocals
♠ Alistair Hamer - drums
♠ Tim Elsenburg - vocals, guitar, producer, mixing
Producer: Tim Elsenburg
♠ Jana Carpenter is an Anglo-American actress, singer and guitarist. She has appeared in a few TV series episodes and films and is also vocalist and guitarist in the countryfolk/harmony band Piefinger, and Mercury Prize nominated experimental rock band Sweet Billy Pilgrim. / MySpace: http://www.myspace.com/sweetbillypilgrim / ♠ Catalogue #: LUXORCD002
♠ Photos by Frances Main
A simply glorious new album from Buckinghamshire’s premier experimental outfit.
Sid Smith 2012-04-23 ♠ It’s been three years since the release of Sweet Billy Pilgrim’s Mercury Prize-nominated album, Twice Born Men, an eclectic mix of folkish tropes and indie-rock-orientated musing. Yet appropriately enough for a band whose name is taken from a character in a Kurt Vonnegut novel who became “unstuck in time”, the group have unhooked themselves from any particular genre, presenting instead a captivating mix that moves freely between supposed boundaries or categories.
♠ Although the product of many hours in the writing and production process, Crown and Treaty avoids sounding overworked or belaboured, creating instead a soundworld of dazzling vitality. Much of this invigorating freshness emanates from the numerous layers of musical information that’s been lovingly threaded into each of these nine tracks.
♠ The density of instrumental colour and dynamic ambition contained in every song makes them akin to symphonies in miniature. Joyful Reunion is typical of this approach, bristling with tooting Michael Nyman-like horns, sumptuous chorales, sonar pings, growling bass, and Tim Elsenburg’s gently unfurling vocals. He is joined once again by drummer Alistair Hamer and bassist Anthony Bishop, alongside recent recruit Jana Carpenter on guitar and vocals, whose presence is most obviously felt in the plaintive break-out vocal of Shadow Captain. Here, a tripping, rippling melody is powered by the churchy burr of a harmonium and sunny harmonies that Fleet Foxes would envy.
♠ A witty, instinctual songwriter, Elsenburg creates intriguing portraits taken from life’s bigger picture, smartly using happenstance and the intersections of people and places as his subject matter. Such abstract notions find surprisingly accessible expression on tracks like Arrived at Upside Down. Complete with glistening celesta embellishments, Elsenburg marvels at what comes our way if we pay attention. Without compromising their artistic vision one iota, Sweet Billy Pilgrim have gone from black-and-white art-house to breathtaking widescreen, and the results are quite simply glorious.
Review by Scott Kerr
♠ Up until their 2009 Mercury Prize-nominated record Twice Born Men, U.K. experimental folk-rock act Sweet Billy Pilgrim were a part-time outfit with day jobs, and frontman Tim Elsenburg had his hand down a toilet when receiving the news of their nomination. A small publishing advance was all it took to persuade Elsenburg to concentrate on music full-time, and the band’s beautiful third offering, Crown and Treaty, is a fine result of that decision. Without steering too far from their previous albums’ templates, Crown and Treaty expands the band’s atmospheric sound and introduces the addition of female vocalist and guitarist (as well as Doctor Who actor) Jana Carpenter alongside core members Anthony Bishop and Alistair Hamer. Three years have elapsed since their second record, with much of the time spent writing as well as perfecting the intricate production process that Elsenburg has developed, while also upgrading their studio space from a lowly garden shed to a lowly bungalow. With the big hooks and melodies that invigorate “Blakefield Glory” and the soaring chorus in “Brugada,” it is easy to feel that the band have erred toward a poppier approach on first listen. However, further spins reveal unrelenting depth and layers that fill the album with intrigue. Bordering on experimental rock, all the spaces in between the drums, gritty bass, acoustic guitar, and humble vocals are thoughtfully colored with all manner of instrumentation, including a plucked dishwasher. The presence of new addition Carpenter is felt in the harmonious “Shadow Captain,” which bustles past in a hum of plucked guitars and harmonies that the Fleet Foxes would be proud of. Without feeling fussy or trite, Crown and Treaty creates dynamic soundscapes with a keen pop sensibility woven within tracks like “Joyful Reunion” that unfold gently until their climactic ending. Their third record manages to blur the lines of the folk-rock tags they have been pinned with, flirting around with poppy hooks and soaring Elbow-esque endings, while Elsenburg’s ambitious songwriting breeds almost cinematic breakdowns, which are symbolic of the ambition and creativity that this record exudes. If the majesty of this record indicates anything, it’s that not only were Sweet Billy Pilgrim right to quit their day jobs, but they probably won’t need to go back to them anytime soon. ♠ (Allmusic.com) ♠
By Daniel Paton http://www.musicomh.com
♠ For all the understandable ire and frustration it provokes, the Mercury Music prize often serves a positive purpose. A prime example of this has to be the nomination in 2010 of Sweet Billy Pilgrim’s outstanding Twice Born Men, a brilliant, meticulously arranged odyssey with a wondrously ambivalent relationship with the mainstream and with the conventional values of songwriting. That nomination brought Tim Elsenburg and his excellent band to much wider attention, and Crown And Treaty, the band’s third album, is being distributed by a major label.
♠ The good news is that Crown And Treaty does not veer too far from that successful template, although it does develop it in frequently fascinating ways. The album is bookended by two moments that flirt fleet-footedly with popular appeal. The jagged riffing and melancholy melodies of Joyful Reunion serve as a reminder that obvious comparisons between Sweet Billy Pilgrim and Elbow are far from fatuous, a point underlined by the insistent chorale that takes over towards the song’s conclusion. The final track, Blue Sky Falls, ends the album on a note of blissful, transcendent optimism.
In between, of course, more or less anything goes, often within the space of one song. Many of Elsenburg’s carefully crafted pieces feel like miniature symphonies. The production is precise and pristine (perhaps unfashionably so) and a staggering degree of care and attention to detail has been deployed in making this album. It is not one for blasting from tinny mobile phone speakers at the back of the bus but rather one for total immersion.
♠ Crown And Treaty seems brilliantly balanced between some nimble, thrilling grooves (often in asymmetrical time signatures) and moments of melifluous, melancholy, folk-tinged beauty. There is, however, a sense of both cinematic grandeur and thoughtful reflection that runs throughout the entire collection, threading many disparate elements together with extraordinary success. It remains rare to hear music this ambitious and lofty - but it is not hubris. The consummate ease with which Blakefield Gold dances or the sheer accuracy of Archaeology or Brugada more than demonstrate the band’s combination of skill and creativity.
♠ Whilst Elsenburg’s songs often veer off at completely unexpected tangents (such as when the rhythmic drive of Archaeology suddenly evaporates into what feels more like a contemporary classical landscape), he has obviously thought very carefully about the melodic aspects of composition. His melodies are often sophisticated and protracted, but they are always very carefully mapped out. The long, graceful notes in the chorus of Arrived At Upside Down contrast neatly with the crepuscular activity of the verse. Similarly, Blood Is Big Expense has a carefully controlled, elegiac tone.
♠ So, whilst Elsenburg’s deft combination of the melancholy and the anthemic could easily border on the manipulative, it’s his more subtle flourishes and hints of weirdness that make this music so compelling. It also helps that he has a band that rise to the challenge of this unashamedly serious music. New member Jana Carpenter’s vocals provide a warm and empathetic foil to Elsenburg’s often introspective musings. This is a regal, thoroughly resplendent album and it’s unlikely that there will be another this year to better and more subtly subvert the mainstream.
♠ Anthony Bishop
♠ Album "Twice Born Men" from May 5, 2009
♠ L-R Alistair Hamer, Anthony Bishop, Tim Elsenburg, Jana Carpenter. / Author: Julian Simpson
: By COLIN SOMERVILLE Rating:****
|Sweet Billy Pilgrim ¤¤ Crown and Treaty (2012)|