Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Guillemots - Walk the River review

It seems hard to believe, but ridiculously named, Mercury prize nominated British band Guillemots (it's a kind of bird) released their second album Red, only three years ago.  I thought they had called it quits, probably because they haven't been on my radar for quite some time.  The album wasn't all that well received and to be completely honest, I thought that their critically acclaimed debut, Through the Windowpane, was kind of a snoozefest, save for a handful of tracks.  Anyway, much to my surprise, the Guillemots are back with their third studio album, Walk the River.

Apparently Guillemots frontman and chief songwriter Fyfe Dangerfield (with a name like that, how could you not be a musician?), released a solo album in between Red and this new effort, and even though I've never heard it, it seems as though some people did, and liked it.  Go figure.  Before I actually listened to this album I had noticed that some critics were saying that Walk the River was a return to the sound of their debut, which was funny because I thought their second album sounded exactly the same as their first.  After I listened to Walk the River, I could totally see what they were talking about.  Virtually all of the tracks on any Guillemots album are interchangeable with one another.

This isn't to say that the music is bad.  If you liked Guillemots' previous efforts, you will probably find a lot to like about Walk the River.  There are grandiose, life affirming anthems about love and loss and all of the other pop music cliches you can imagine.  There are delicate, sleepy little introspective numbers.  There are even some rollicking, puffed up radio friendly songs with plenty of "whoa ohhs" and electronic twinges to satiate fickle hipster audiences.  Guillemots don't exactly try anything new on this record, choosing instead to stick to familiar territory.

That being said, this album does sound more cohesive and mature than their previous efforts.  The songs are more complex, and I feel that with repeated listens, people could find a lot to like about this album.  The problem is the fact that there just simply aren't any immediately accessible songs.  Absent are the types of tracks that got the Guillemots noticed in the first place.  There is no "Trains to Brazil", no "Get Over It".  There are no tracks that capture your attention and even fewer that demand you to even notice them.  This is not an album you can haphazardly listen to, it is one that requires some patience to be appreciated.

Despite this, Walk the River is an immense step forward from their second album.  Red saw the "Trains to Brazil" from Through the Windowpane derail, and many people believed it was the last we had heard of the hard-to-pronounce band.  Lyrically it was weak, musically it lacked direction, and the end result was unfocused.  Walk the River finds Guillemots regaining their sense of direction with tighter arrangements and stronger songwriting.

Essentially, the Guillemots have made a more grown up version of their first two albums with Walk the River.  It is a sonically interesting and engaging album, however it runs the risk of boring people who don't have the time to give it a chance to grow on them.  Since Guillemots have already kind of disappeared, this album could have been a loud and raucous return.  Instead the band taps on the collective shoulder of music fans and whispers, "Hey, remember us?".

Trains to Brazil by Guillemots

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