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May 17, 2010 | by  | in Music |
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No Constellation

Before launching into the review proper, let’s spare a moment for some a modicum of praise for Flying Nun’s decision to make Grayson Gilmour its first new signing. Having him on board makes several quite significant statements. Firstly, it reasserts the label’s commitment to an underground, DIY aesthetic, as Gilmour is well known for his commitment to self-release and retention of artistic autonomy, both in his work as a solo artist and as a member of So So Modern. Secondly, it demonstrates a willingness on the part of Flying Nun to avoid being typecast as an exclusive club for jangly guitar bands. Sure, this stereotype has always been somewhat unfair, as the label has always had a diverse roster, but the signing of Gilmour renders any accusations of conservatism invalid from the outset.

Given all this, it’s a shame that No Constellation itself isn’t a little bit more substantial. It begins strongly enough, with opener (and advance single) ‘Loose Change’ sketching out a sonic blueprint for the rest of the album by the fourth bar. After an idly plucked bass note, a stacked procession of piano, glockenspiel and drums pound and arpeggiate their way up the scale before dropping out. The melody is carried on only by Grayson’s right hand on the piano, and then everything else cuts back in. Loud/Soft, Loud/Soft, Loud/Soft.

To anyone who has heard Grayson’s earlier albums it’s an instantly familiar device, and it makes up the entirety of ‘Loose Change’. It’s a brash statement, but one that also reaffirms Grayson’s commitment to an approach which has served him well throughout his solo recording career. And this is the primary complaint with No Constellation, because for all its embellishments (pellucid production, prominent use of glockenspiel and strings) it’s hard not to see Grayson himself stuck in the kind of holding pattern which Flying Nun paradoxically seem to be striving to avoid by choosing to release his album.

For the opening suit of the aforementioned ‘Loose Change’, the more varied (and very glockenspiel-driven) ‘Chromosomes’, and the anthemic ‘I am a Light’ (one of the most potent songs Gilmour has ever written), he gets away with it on the strength of their songwriting and melodies. Unfortunately, the predictable switch to ballad mode for the unremarkable and overlong piano lilt of ‘Fire Downstairs’ releases much of the tension that its predecessors had worked up. The rest of the ride is riddled with further inconsistencies. ‘Circa Skeleton 31’ is an inconsequential instrumental interlude, and ‘Gem Apple John’ is a self-indulgent attempt at introducing variety through diversionary tangents into finger clicking and jazz-inflected piano workouts.

There’s no doubt that Gilmour is a gifted technician, but he’s always been at his best when channeling his off-kilter efforts towards the service of melody and songwriting (his more muscular songs tend to be his best). On No Constellation he doesn’t quite get this balance right, and the result is an uneven record whose opening promises plenty, but delivers without decisiveness. It’s a bit of a shame, but as a (re)start for both (post-So So Modern) Gilmour and Flying Nun there’s still enough here to suggest that the future could be plenty bright.

3/5

Album: No Constellation
Artist: Grayson Gilmour
Label: Flying Nun

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  1. matthew says:

    what is this ‘holding pattern’ you speak of flying nun avoiding? the history books, unfortunately, seem to have been rewritten by a few unknowing and uncaring offshore blog scribes, but that label was NEVER just a fucking jangle pop depository. i know you acknowledge this, but you seem unconvinced yourself. and they just reissued the back catalogue of the preeminent jangle band, the verlaines, so the idea that they’re trying to avoid that incredibly overstated aesthetic is kinda stupid.
    i’m pretty sure they released this album because they liked it, not to throw people off the scent, and the implication that they didn’t is more than a little patronising.

  2. malino says:

    you are a negative writer, not a critical one.
    why give someone 3/5 if you can only write negative comments about the album?
    this article is self-indulgent, not quite a critique.

  3. matthew says:

    malino, yr obviously an idiot. it’s a well considered and even handed piece, particularly given that kim himself interviewed grayson last week. while i’ve pointed out my issues with it, aside from them (and having listened to the album myself, advance copies as cha ching) it’s perfectly reasonable.

  4. smackdown says:

    kim wheatly locked in war with kym cornley for ownership of pa joad’s farm

  5. malino says:

    to me it sounded like he was overall disappointed in the album as there are only negative comments. if he is to give the album 3/5 he should write a more balanced article, pointing out the good and bad. most sentences seem to end with a comment that depreciates the album. therefore i think it is a negative writing, not critical. its disappointing to read an article with only negative points of an exceptionally beautiful album.

  6. MBS says:

    OMG COOL

  7. what? says:

    I couldn’t disagree more about this review. The album builds on Grayson’s previous albums, His music is complex but well crafted, and I enjoy the way the album works as a whole. To me, it feels like the interludes are important stepping stones between the songs. It’s not just a whole bunch of singles like some albums these days.

    After the first three songs, fire downstairs is a perfect resolution, and the song itself is beautiful. Heartfelt without coming across as cheesy.

    I also enjoyed the closing track very much..

    I would give it a 4/5 myself. But the review here sounds like it should be a 2/5?

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