IMAGINED HYMNS & CHAINGANG MANTRAS - THE LITTLE UNSAID
LCM ALBUM OF THE MONTH - APRIL 2017
Release date: 1st April, 2017
Genre: Singer-Songwriter, Alt-Folk, Rock
Band: John Elliott, Alison D'Souza, Tim Heymerdinger and Mariya Brachkova
Location: London, UK
Record Label: Carbon Moon Records
Every so often an album comes along which is very special. Fresh, vibrant, powerful, elegantly crafted, a thing of real beauty. I have been a huge fan of multi-instrumentalist, singer-songwriter, producer and master 'looper' John Elliott aka The Little Unsaid and his band since we first met back in 2013. John hugely impressed me then with superb musicianship and arrangements, great vocals, thoughtful personal reflective songs and immaculate delivery. Although playing at the time in a small venue John was joined by a four piece string section, the Southfield Quartet. The amazing sound they produced together definitely had the wow factor! This time around John is joined by some more high quality musicians including Alison D'Souza, who was part of that original quartet. "Imagined Hymns and Chaingang Mantras" is a real tour de force showcasing the very best of John's music. Sweeping soundscapes, sometimes dark themed but always meaningful and sublime songs. John has always been an inspiration to many other musicians and it's not to hard to see why. He is a shining beacon of super creativity in the independent music world. One of his many strengths is his rich and skilful lyrics writing and arrangements. This definitely comes to the fore on this new album.
Recent winners of the Steve Reid InNOVAtion Award for boundary-pushing new music creators, The Little Unsaid have spent the last year travelling the UK and Europe, leaving audiences emotionally rapt with a live show that’s been described as ‘a thumping depth of passion, recalling the intensity and melancholic overtones of Nick Cave and Leonard Cohen.’ Led by Yorkshire-born songwriter and multi-instrumentalist John Elliott, the band have just completed their forthcoming album, "Imagined Hymns & Chaingang Mantras", recorded with Radiohead engineer and acclaimed film score producer Graeme Stewart. Stewart’s touch lends a sweeping, cinematic quality to the album’s ten deeply personal songs, written during John's recovery from post-traumatic stress disorder after a year of ongoing personal trauma brought his life and music career to a standstill.
With a rigorous work ethic and a genre-spanning approach to songwriting that embraces elements of electronica, folk, jazz and alt-rock, it's no surprise that John and the band have attracted the attention of the Steve Reid Foundation, formed in honour of the ground-breaking Miles Davis and Fela Kuti drummer. Working with a diverse range of mentors through the foundation’s award programme, including Gilles Peterson, Floating Points and FourTet, the band are embarking on an album launch tour in the UK this spring, culminating in a return to major festivals throughout the summer. It’s here on the live circuit that the band have steadily built their reputation for creating electric, emotionally-charged performances and this remains where their hunger lies.
“These songs were all born out of a search for meaning in the darkness we all find ourselves in at some point in our lives,” John explains, “and for me and the band, getting out there and sharing them with people is a really powerful thing. That magic that occurs when the music and the energy of an audience creates sparks, that’s what we’re always chasing. There’s an immense feeling of unity in those moments, and I think we all need that more than ever right now.”
The album opens with the title 'Imagined Hymn' an atmospheric track with John floating vocals over soft finger-picked acoustic guitar and a rich string arrangements. One of the joys of John music is the wonderful way he builds and layers each song, drawing you into his personal world.
Following on perfectly is the reflective 'Tumbling Snow' "All our footsteps are covered up, but our path isn't lost". John is a master lyric writer, wonderful arranger and has a ear for a great hook. All of which are showcased on this track.
The piano lend 'Melt Down The Moon' continues the reflective theme. The tracks builds beautiful into rich electronica with sublime string arrangements. The deep and reflective 'Get On The Other Side Of That Door' continues a personal and rich look at life and working your way through the many problems of modern living. "Sirens out there howling loud, midnight in London Town. I stand here naked now in your headlight eyes. I was weary of the tail chase. Hunting down my mistakes.......We live the fantasy, of living free".
'Dig' is full of intensity. Demonstrating the full emotional weight John's music can carry. Again beautifully written 'Everyday I wake into this miracle I find. Your accident of cells somehow exploding next to mine. How we dance through the seasons now. How we gently ebb and flow and some days how we ride, the frenzied tides on which we're thrown.......to the moment we fall from the moment we first rise. We've got to dig the happiness from our own landfill lives.' The second half of the dual title tracks 'Chaingang Mantra'. It's a song which asks questions and demands answers. It also has a deeper spiritual level and almost a mystical quality. The word 'mantra' comes from Hinduism and it a word or formula chanted or sung as an incantation or prayer. It carries the idea of an often repeated word, formula, or phrase, often a truism. Interestingly the word is paired with 'Chaingang' which is a group of prisoners chained together to perform menial or physically challenging work as a form of punishment. With it's soft picked acoustic guitar and hand claps 'Let Desire Back In' has a almost Spanish or Latin feel. 'See me crawl back from the dark, lumping up my roadkill heart. Every atoms spits and sparks. It's just you and I".
One of the album's lead singles is the deep and personal 'Symptomatic', about John's battle with PTSD. It's a sweeping soundscape of strings and gentle pulsing percussion. "What can i say? Tongue like a ten tonne freight train out on the ramage. You woke up all the monsters and brought them out to play. Shame on your backward brain. You thought you were out of the woods now. Didn't You?.......And it's not so easy to be yourself......once again it shakes you to the core.......I am lost here!"
Wishing to have a fresh chance and start again are the themes of 'Wreck & Reset'. As the song builds it really reminded me of Pink Floyd. It's also quite Beatlesque at times. This wonderful album ends with a piano ballad 'Day is Golden'. It's a look into John's inner deep feeling, struggles and demons. It's one of the most honest and personal songs I've heard in awhile. "I have no home, but the day is golden, The sun is up but I have seldom felt colder. It's fine being alive some days.....I am hanging by a thread, my friend, today"