CD Review – Hymns by Mike Angus
Review by Doug Heselgrave
Wheatpool guitarist’s first solo album is an unexpected dark gem
And French braids
Playing off her shoulder blade”
– from ‘Italy’
Haunting is one of the most overused adjectives in music journalism, but if there’s another word that describes the songs on Mike Angus’ debut album – the aptly titled ‘Hymns’ – I’m open to suggestions.
The eight tracks that Angus recorded for this project aren’t so much songs as skeletal cries, maps argued in sand with sticks at the riverbank, the reflection in the water. Sometimes – as in the third track ‘Oh Rodeo’ – the mood he conveys is light and loose, an openended invitation to confession hangs in the air. But, underlying the minimalist scoring there’s a density, an infusion of regret. These are songs of intermittent pitch; dark with mottled light speckling through. Whatever these songs are, they elude easy categorization and they are absolutely captivating and totally absorbing. To say that I was unprepared for the journey through the heart of these songs would be an understatement. They are worlds away from the guitar drenched opuses and rousing heartland rock and roll that Angus has previously recorded as part of the great prairie band, ‘The Wheatpool’
With song titles like ‘Swallow It Whole’, ‘Scaffold Christ’, ‘Cold Cold Ground’ and ‘What does it mean?’, it’s obvious that ‘Hymns’ wasn’t envisioned as ice cream parlor music, still I was surprised to see them described as ‘pop gems’ on his website. I don’t know what kind of hurting universe would be full of people who enjoyed listening to these songs between sips of Pepsi at the mall. I guess ‘Hymns’ is pop music insofar as there was a great deal of polish, taste and restraint exercised in decorating these ghosts Angus conjured up from the floorboards of his psyche. Thankfully, he is a great singer with all of the instincts about phrasing and timing to pull these songs off. The instrumentation is utterly perfect throughout. Sometimes Angus’ guitar creates a wash that bathes the listener in an insulating blanket, but often the strings have no more body than the tap of wind swept branches against a window pane. There is a Cohen-ish hush to the whole proceedings that not only works, but is immensely appealing.
‘Hymns’ is an album that has caught me completely by surprise. It is truly an unexpected diamond in the rough that behind its indie trappings offers private, contemplative music of the highest order. Highly recommended.
This posting also appears at www.restlessandreal.blogspot.com
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