Mull Historical Society Looks Back and Out with 'Wakelines'
On Wakelines, Colin MacIntyre of Mull Historical Society turns his melodic pop to look in multiple directions while maintaining a unified sound.
Mull Historical Society
Xtra Mile Recordings
21 September 2018
On new album Wakelines, Mull Historical Society (essentially Colin MacIntyre) manages to look deeply inward and to the past while simultaneously taking a broad look at the future. The album's high point hinges on his own teenage self being delivered musical edification on his Scottish island home, but it uses those roots to branch out, offering hope and consolation in an era that needs it. While doing so, MacIntyre uses his melodic pop sensibility for reflection and uplift, making for an album that looks in multiple directions while maintaining a unified sound.
Ostensibly the story of MacIntyre's first guitar, "14 Year Old Boy" carries Arthurian tones, the new hero being chosen by an instrument coming to him out of the water. In this case, it's a guitar being brought ashore to the young musician on Mull. MacIntyre keeps the song grounded; it turns out to be less about mythic origins and more about the shedding of insecurities. The teenage protagonist doesn't have to become a guitar prodigy; he merely has to realize that it's okay to become himself, allowing him to rise by the end of the track. The song builds from a gentle sort of pop song into something almost authentic, given to a realistic maturity rather than a melodramatic epiphany.
Much of the album looks backward, or at least at youth, with the album's title referencing MacIntyre watching his father leave for work by boat each morning. "Little Bird" deals with parenting, and holding on to a child. "Child Inside of Me" deals with personal challenges and self-identification, amplified by strings that add a little gravitas to the song's pop melodies. It's the sort of casual softness that has often marked Mull Historical Society, a comfortable place to easily sink into.
Not all of that album offers such ease. The title track begins the album with bright pop-rock but turns inscrutably toward "people dying" as part of scattered thoughts about emigration and Syrian refugees. Lyrically, the tumbling phrases and steady rhyme make for a memorable track, but it's lack of specificity prevents it from having the potent impact potentially there, even with its closing question, "Why do you need to go tonight?" It's ambiguity – is this addressed to a migrant, a lover, a family member? – dissipates the weight of the moment. A possibly universal moment becomes a little too obscure.
MacIntyre does draw more focused sentiment from the back half of the album, almost in answer to the concerns of that opening number. "New Day Dawning" offers perpetual hope, and MacIntyre has the sense to resist going maudlin on the song without losing any of his earnestness. The gentle build of closer "Put Your Arms Around Me" asks for comfort in a global time of "holding on". The song gets to the heart of Mull Historical Society's work: it's vulnerable and sincere in lyric and performance, with the music carefully orchestrated and well executed.
Throughout Wakelines, MacIntyre turns his gift for that style of music to good use. He searches through the past even while working to process the present. It makes for an afternoon of wistful reflection with a gifted songwriter, but it could still benefit from a little more meat and friction. Even so, MacIntyre, particularly when he's engagingly clear and specific, can create a welcoming mood and big-hearted expressions.