wears the trousers magazine


starless & bible black: shape of the shape (2009)
September 29, 2009, 9:50 am
Filed under: album, review | Tags: , , ,

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Starless & Bible Black
Shape Of The Shape ••••
Static Caravan

Starless & Bible Black took their name from the classic 1965 hit by British jazz composer Stan Tracey (a title also adopted by prog rockers King Crimson for their 1974 album) after meeting back in 2005. The group formed in Manchester, though lead vocalist Hélèn Gautier is of French descent, giving the folk-rock outfit a distinctly European panache. Their well-received self-titled debut marked them out as ones to watch, and patient nightgazers are well rewarded here as the banjos and dulcimers of the 2006 affair have evolved into a broader sound that favours the electric guitar and some expertly affected Moog. Recorded between the wilds of the Snowdonia mountains and late-night sessions at their local town hall, this second full-length crosses ’70s country rock with loose, folk structures and a steadily undulating psychedelic theme.

Heavyweight in quality but fluid and expansive in execution, Shape Of The Shape is epically beautiful. Exquisite guitar-based arrangements are layered and unfolded with a natural, organic grace made almost spiritual with dreamy, synth elevations. Moody yet warm, these compositions are the type that need little help from production gloss, reverberating with a sheer, natural pulse that really can’t be faked. They somehow manage to be both nostalgic and freshly modern, a clever feat indeed. Likely inspirations seem to be weaved into the album’s fabric with frequency – Pink Floyd and Neil Young are all consistently evoked – but they appear like shimmering glimpses of transformed deities or passing ghosts given a breath of light rather then anything so crass as straight up plagiarism.

Though it’s an opinion that causes debate between critics and theorists alike, certain sounds may elicit a gendered aura for some. Shape Of The Shape, with its long-haired, ’70s country-rock lilt, definitely leans towards a masculine aesthetic, but this is a benefit, and only makes Gautier’s earthy, very female lead all the more interesting. Frequently cited with that favourite adjective of music critics, “husky”, Gautier’s vocals are actually silky, almost chic. She shines in a very unassuming way, unintentionally sophisticated with a low-key delicacy, and all the more sensual for it. Her first notes on the album’s driven, rockabilly-lite opener ‘Say Donny Say’ are a pleasant surprise, and she handles the slow tempo, Neil Young-inspired groove of ‘Hanging On The Vine’ with a fittingly sultry flair.

Despite being just a little too repetitive, ‘Radio Blues’ deserves mention for its aching, sensual blues, while ‘Popty Ping’ (titled after the Welsh word for ‘microwave’) stands out among Shape Of The Shape’s rhythmic narratives. Its silly name really does the song no justice, so don’t be fooled – this is a perfect example of what an instrumental should do. The absence of lyrics and vocals clear the way for a flood of subtle, subjective emotion and the interplay between guitars, percussion and synths works perfectly, each giving way to the other only to eventually coalesce seductively. And in spite of the palpable atmosphere of undercurrents, the song never quite reveals itself, leaving an effective, unspoken tension in the air.

It’s a shame that album closer ‘Year Of Dalmatians’ ends the journey on a dashing anticlimax. The arrangement’s rolling country beginnings are swiftly interrupted by Gautier’s vocals, busying in rather like an unwelcome guest at a party, far too high pitched for such an easy gaited song and disappointingly fussy where mellow, smooth and low would have been perfect. It’s an ending that’s hard to forgive, disturbing a successfully emotive album that wends through its rock, folk, country and psychedelia terrains with unique aplomb. Still, this disheartening choice of pitch is one of very few faults in an expertly crafted album. If you can get over the song’s unnecessarily elevated octave, there’s plenty to revel in.

Charlotte Richardson Andrews
UK release date: 12/10/09; www.myspace.com/starlessbibleblack

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[…] Girls In Trouble [4.5/5] 96 O+S – O+S [4/5] 95 Starless & Bible Black – Shape Of The Shape [4/5] 94 Dot Allison – Room 7½ [4/5] 93 Diane Birch – Bible Belt [3.5/5] 92 Rykarda Parasol – For […]

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