Dutch Husband - Fantasy Blanket & The Fall Chorus
Good things come to those who wait. Though on the flip side of the proverb, waiting too long for something can ultimately lead to a disappointing anti-climax. The arrival of Dutch Husband''s debut album has become part of Bournemouth folklore for most of this century, the fact that it sits on the table in front of me whilst its sounds crash through my speakers beside me feels almost surreal.
From the very first Dutch gig many moons ago, their brand of beautifully heavy lo-fi has (almost) always been an impressive live spectacle. With a handful of makeshift Dutch eps in the ''local'' section of my cd collection, ''Fantasy Blanket & The Fall Chorus'' is now, at last, the real thing. Containing eleven songs, many dating back almost as far as that first Dutch gig, this is almost a ''Best Of'', yet (and very importantly), this sounds like 100% fresh Dutch. Yes, some of these songs are three or four years old, but their sound has moved on in that time and these songs have clearly moved with them.
A week of intense listening now; I think I''ve got it. Not lyrically, those will be a never ending journey, but as a collection of songs to be listened to as a whole, from start to finish, this (as with its physical form) is a wonderful piece of art.
Top 5 things I love about this album:
1. It''s feel. It''s vibe. Throughout the eleven songs the tempo (often dramatically) changes, heavy distortion is mixed with subtle delicacies, but as a complete album it works perfectly. It has an identity, it is an album rather than just eleven songs; bearing in mind there aren''t two songs anywhere near the same here, that is some achievement. These songs blend together perfectly, and over forty-five minutes they flow in a way that leaves you tired and emotional at the end. I love that.
2. How it makes me feel. I want music which effects my emotions. Music that moves me physically or mentally, that makes me jump around, or think, or weep. Well, this album does all of those. From the gloriously distorted guitar thrash of ''Board vs The Bodycount'', ''Fractures'' and ''Adult Hands'' to the simply brilliant ''Gratitude''. It''s yet to make me actually shed tears, but the final three songs have brought a lump to my throat more than once. If they''d added the beautiful ''Sleep Heroics'' to the end rather than opened the album with it that may have tipped me over the edge.
3. The production. Paul Dutch recommends headphones for an ultimate listening experience, and they certainly enhance the finer musical detail. But the sound of Dutch filling your room is just as good, all that distortion deserves wide open spaces. This album took three years to make and it shows; the production is faultless, with subtle touches amongst the screeching feedback. Lo-Fi was never meant to sound this good.
4. The last three songs. Nearing the end of the journey, and the pace has drastically slowed. ''Rumspringa'' starts and it''s now so slow it''s almost going backwards, whilst Lee sounds like he''s losing the will to live. It is beautifully desperate with Imogen sparingly harmonising. Distortion ends; angry, fucked off distortion. ''Digital Wing'' is Dutch''s ''epic'', building slowly, gently thought-provoking, before the pace and passion rises, climaxing in a way which makes the hairs on your arms pay attention. Final track ''Fall Chorus'' is possibly the best track on the album; that forementioned feel is at its fragile best here, from the beautifully mellow groove, to Imogen''s bass and perfect harmony and Paul''s glock. But it''s the gorgeous dual trumpets at the end which signal the end, and appear to be telling you that everything''s gonna be okay.
5. Lee''s vocals. His words (more often than not) read like a puzzle, but such is the emotional certainty amongst the variation in his voice it feels like their meaning must be discovered. As with the music, his tone undulates from start to finish; from the blast/narration of ''Adult Hands'' to the gloriously slumberful ''Rumspringa''. Fantastically listenable.
So, it''s a winner. Thank fuck. After being a Dutch fan since those very first gigs (shyly facing sideways or backwards was a regular feature), the build up to this album has been never-ending. The fact that it has exceeded my already high hopes and expectations is partly a relief, though more importantly, it makes it a fucking good album. Not perfect by any means; I''ve never been a fan of ''hidden tracks'' and this album has one. ''Fall Chorus'' is a perfect ending, simple as that, anything extra would spoil it. The fact that after one minute a lo-fi instrumental home recording hums in, vibrating gracefully for a further six, means that ''Fall Chorus'' isn''t the end; and I want it to be.
I''d also start with ''Board vs The Bodycount''. It cries out to be the opener, and whilst the gorgeous ''Sleep Heroics'' is a calm before a possibly unsuspecting storm, adding it to the already fantastic end would cause an overload to the senses; tears may just appear. After that opener, the mood for the next fifteen minutes is heavy, intense and energetic. Gnarled guitars and urgent delivery smacks of Sonic Youth and ''Rust'' era Neil Young; all very, very good. If there''s a part of the album in which the quality dips slightly, for me it''s the next three songs. That said, ''Rope'' continues to grow on me, especially the second half of the song which sounds like the Beta Band and features more quality brass. ''Exit One Dependent'' sounds dark and moody, though its gentle rhythm and “there''s no straight edges in fire” message has yet to effect me. I''ll give it time.
Lyrically, ''Fantasy Blanket & The Fall Chorus'' is wide open to interpretation. Only very occasionally is it anywhere near obvious as to the message contained, not just in a song, but in a verse or a sentence. Songs are made up of image-provoking soundbites which are sometimes annoyingly difficult to decipher. ''Rumspringa'', amongst others, certainly points at... well, you decide (sung at 1 mph with zero interest) - “You block the picture and you turn the sound down, but when I''m bored it''s good to have you around. Put our heads together, share a joke and pot some tricks, spread lies about your family for kicks. Then they won''t let you back home, they''ll start to appreciate the gesture, after you''re gone”. Clearly many of these songs hint at personal frailty and insecurities, this only adds to the appeal, beauty coupled with sadness is such a joyful combination.
Possibly (perhaps intentionally) the clearest message comes throughout the (my) final track ''Fall Chorus'' “You promised you would take me in, when the lights grow dim and the disco begins, and the knots in my stomach sing, of the slowing pace and the rut that they''re in.” Like all of these songs, you grasp and words and phrases, and form your own opinions as to their meaning. “Fantasy Blanket”? Well, I have my meaning, and I''m happy with it. But then the song draws to a close, and for the last minute the perfect harmony sings “I can be no critic of this house upon its last kick”. Oh, if it wasn''t sung so beautifully I wouldn''t care about its meaning. But it is. And I do.
''Fantasy Blanket & The Fall Chorus'' perfectly captures the intense, dirty guitar thrash which is frequently evident in a Dutch live set. Partly due to the superb production it also shows a mellower side to the band which is sometimes not easy to appreciate during a live performance. Wonderful, slightly unexpected highlights are Imogen''s vocals and trumpet; hit and miss live, they are faultless on the album and used absolutely perfectly. Have I missed anything? Probably, but this is a big album, there''s a lot going on and much to get your head around and mind into. Yes, now it''s here it was definitely worth the wait; Dutch, please don''t please don''t make us wait another five years for the next one.
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