Mull Historical Society: Loss

Devon Powers

Mull Historical Society


Label: XL
US Release Date: 2002-05-07
UK Release Date: 2001-10-15

Call me shallow, but the cover art of Loss almost kept me from buying the thing. Nevermind the obsequious musings from the British press prominently displayed on the outside (I picked up my copy in Ireland); nevermind the string of hits the album had already produced; no -- one glimpse of the fucking dog wearing the damned wig, and I was a goner. Maybe one should never judge a book by its cover, but an album of music unheard has very little else to go on, and a dog in a wig on a garish orange background with cartoonish fonts to me says one thing: atrocious. Oh, and another thing: huh?

All the aesthetic je ne sais quoi likely is leaning toward the more quizzical reaction, and other adjectives: quirky, curious, out-of-sync, eccentric, unique. Sitting somewhere in the valley between the Flaming Lips, Super Furry Animals and Beta Band, Mull Historical Society's aim is to wow and woo with weird sounds, saccharine melodies, and a beyond-trends, almost provincial gusto. Though working within a Britpop tradition, Mull Historical Society break the mold by being carnivalesque without camp, sincere without sense, and pop without pomp. No wonder they've been chalked up to be one of the more original bands to come around the British indie scene in a long time -- Mull Historical Society sounds as if they've no idea how to follow the pack, even if they wanted to.

The "they" of MHS is mostly a "he". Colin MacIntyre, who grew up on the isle of Mull that's west of Scotland, started Mull Historical Society in his mind's eye and ear, then picked up members here and there to flesh out his creative vision. Much like Damon Gough (aka Badly Drawn Boy), Mull Historical Society's music is utterly personal as well as egomaniacal, riddled with the pop-prog aural footnotes that manifest only when someone gives full import to any idea that might cross his mind. (Take note -- the album is chock full of tracks-between-tracks, mini-melodies, and songs that seem to stutter by ending twice.) Content-wise, the bright music often carries visions of hopeless futures, peculiar private memories, and otherwise random anecdotes. Subsequently, Loss sometimes feels like an incredibly esoteric inside joke, written by someone undergoing violent mood swings.

Beginning Loss is "Public Service Announcer", a plodding though somehow cheery overture-like number about the confines of work, particularly in public service. MacIntyre's vocals -- hardly beautiful, but with a definitely catchy kitsch -- are plain and simple, sometimes speaking, sometimes sing-speaking. Musically, the song builds haphazardly; instruments drop out then reappear for flourish, and sometimes the melody is carried by no more than voice and percussion, or the childlike piano etude. It's curiously both positive and bleak, mirroring the feeling the song articulates, of being personally free under social or economic regulation.

Such a number in no way prepares you for "Xanadu", a full, hooky tune -- the sort you can sing along to immediately. Still, despite its poppiness, it has its own dark corners. "She says there's a photograph / she says it's the saddest thing," MacIntyre sings, the lyrics clashing with the musical mood like rain on a sunny day. This tactic repeats across the album -- from the zealous pep of "This Is Not Who We Were", which MacIntyre has described as "very much a 1984 image", to the sing-song manifesto of "Animal Cannabus", which professes stalwart non-conformity, perhaps at the cost of isolation. And since so much of the album derives directly from the sensibilities begotten by growing up on a somewhat isolated isle, one begins to wonder if MacIntyre views that mindset as a liberation or a cage.

Loss is an album that can be listened to on many levels, depending on how fully you want to entrench yourself in MacIntyre's world. The problem -- and perhaps for some, the intrigue -- is that none of the layers feel wholly satisfying. Upon cursory listenings, the music is lush, tuneful and accessible, but beyond that, it feels deceptive against the peculiarity laden in nearly every track. It's not just that the songs are deep or melancholy -- more than that, they are decidedly over your head and painstakingly subliminal. Be prepared, at every interval of Loss, to ask far more questions than you'll be able to answer. First up: who in the world decided to put that dog in a wig on the cover?

Cover down, pray through: Bob Dylan's underrated, misunderstood "gospel years" are meticulously examined in this welcome new installment of his Bootleg series.

"How long can I listen to the lies of prejudice?
How long can I stay drunk on fear out in the wilderness?"
-- Bob Dylan, "When He Returns," 1979

Bob Dylan's career has been full of unpredictable left turns that have left fans confused, enthralled, enraged – sometimes all at once. At the 1965 Newport Folk Festival – accompanied by a pickup band featuring Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper – he performed his first electric set, upsetting his folk base. His 1970 album Self Portrait is full of jazzy crooning and head-scratching covers. In 1978, his self-directed, four-hour film Renaldo and Clara was released, combining concert footage with surreal, often tedious dramatic scenes. Dylan seemed to thrive on testing the patience of his fans.

Keep reading... Show less

Inane Political Discourse, or, Alan Partridge's Parody Politics

Publicity photo of Steve Coogan courtesy of Sky Consumer Comms

That the political class now finds itself relegated to accidental Alan Partridge territory along the with rest of the twits and twats that comprise English popular culture is meaningful, to say the least.

"I evolve, I don't…revolve."
-- Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge began as a gleeful media parody in the early '90s but thanks to Brexit he has evolved into a political one. In print and online, the hopelessly awkward radio DJ from Norwich, England, is used as an emblem for incompetent leadership and code word for inane political discourse.

Keep reading... Show less

The show is called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend largely because it spends time dismantling the structure that finds it easier to write women off as "crazy" than to offer them help or understanding.

In the latest episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the CW networks' highly acclaimed musical drama, the shows protagonist, Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom), is at an all time low. Within the course of five episodes she has been left at the altar, cruelly lashed out at her friends, abandoned a promising new relationship, walked out of her job, had her murky mental health history exposed, slept with her ex boyfriend's ill father, and been forced to retreat to her notoriously prickly mother's (Tovah Feldshuh) uncaring guardianship. It's to the show's credit that none of this feels remotely ridiculous or emotionally manipulative.

Keep reading... Show less

Here comes another Kompakt Pop Ambient collection to make life just a little more bearable.

Another (extremely rough) year has come and gone, which means that the German electronic music label Kompakt gets to roll out their annual Total and Pop Ambient compilations for us all.

Keep reading... Show less

Winner of the 2017 Ameripolitan Music Award for Best Rockabilly Female stakes her claim with her band on accomplished new set.

Lara Hope & The Ark-Tones

Love You To Life

Label: Self-released
Release Date: 2017-08-11

Lara Hope and her band of roots rockin' country and rockabilly rabble rousers in the Ark-Tones have been the not so best kept secret of the Hudson Valley, New York music scene for awhile now.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.