Veering from existential keyboard plunging to jazz-influenced softness, Between the Walls is often a plush album which has its accelerator placed firmly on the floor – but sometimes it nearly crashes.
It’s ingenious how the supergroup, which features John Coxon of Spiritualised, expose layers of sparse sounds (together with Alexis Taylor’s vocal) with a spontaneity that should be grating but is instead often addictive. But this addiction weans at points.
‘Love Because’ irons the addictive disarray as does ‘All Is Not Lost’ and ‘If You Can’t Love Me’ which are the albums go-to’s – the highs and lows of the heart make some sense when mirrored against such cherry-picked instrumentation and non-scoring.
Check, too, ‘Nightlife Sinking’ for one of the more interesting ways to exploit a guitar – but unfortunate follow up ‘Untitled’ is one of BTW‘s misfirings, which – as its’ title suggests – bounds into self-conscious experimentation-OTT mode; it’s raspy sampling venturing a pitch too far.
‘Untitled’ leaves a scar which is deepened by dull ballad ‘I Never Look That Door’ and poked at by ‘Yes’, which screams like a pained tangfastic.
When BTW scores it hits at emotional responses similar to Disney’s WALL:E inasmuch as it presents a remarkably unified image out of fragmentation – but Taylor and co. are guilty of over-egging a sound which brands itself on exclusivity and not bombast.
About Group aren’t the first band to muck around in front of a microphone and call it a saleable commodity. The tracks which went on Between the Walls are a pretty straightforward snapshot of, well, what went on between the walls: the walls of the recording studio, wherein history tells us anything goes, and crucially the walls of About Group’s collective mind.
This is to say that the tunes have that improvisational, thinking-out-loud quality; in which things sometimes clash, things sometimes drag, but by and large, things offer a neat insight into how thoughts get constructed. The titles are all miniature resolutions or half-formed mental notes. ‘Make The World Laugh Again’ is one; it’s got the low-tempo, pensive quality of the instrumental passages on Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon.
Think of that era’s penchant for whistling organs and bluesy chords, and you’ve got a flavour of what the disparate noises and musical fragments coalesce into song-wise, before breaking up again to form something new. ‘Walk On By’ sounds like something Jack White might be involved in; ‘Words’ has more of a Prince-y feel, with what sounds like a dying computer screaming over the top. Experimental, if not truly radical – but at least these jams have relevance beyond the studio walls.
A Dionne Warwick cover reveals itself as part of Between The Walls’s opening act, emerging from a masculine, heavy drum beat, the lyrics of ‘Walk on By’ at odds with the instrumentation. It sounds vulnerable and unexpected; the whole experience of listening to Between The Walls is like being slapped with a fish called Unexpected.
‘Graph Paper’ seems to be somebody bashing all the sound effect buttons on a keyboard in a determined yet clueless way. If you remember Ross from Friends with a keyboard you’ll know this isn’t a kind way to treat people’s ears. I defy anyone to enjoy listening to ‘Graph Paper’ but maybe that’s the point.
The record revels in confusion: during ‘Love Because’ I lumbered around looking for a phantom alarm and as ‘Nightlife/Sinking’ finished, I thought the mouse in my kitchen was humping a water pipe. The benefit of these odd sonic farts is that when a thudding beat emerges like a majestic musical buoyancy aid (‘Untitled’), it sounds fantastic.
When Taylor sings ‘words are a dying breed, they can’t say what we mean. Love is a losing game…’, suddenly the musical whiplash makes sense: this is the sound of a broken heart being expressed through/taken out on musical instruments (delete as applicable).
Check Between The Walls' lead single 'You're No Good' on Domino Records