Oddfellow´s Casino —The Raven´s Empire (2012)
Oddfellow’s Casino – The Raven’s Empire
Location: Brighton, England, UK
Album release: January 30, 2012
Record Label: Nightjar /// An English gem – as whimsical and bittersweet as Robert Wyatt or Talk Talk, but with edgier, more epic production. And the song We Will Be Here is an anthem in waiting. Marcus O’Dair
ABOUT THIS ITEM:
¶ Brighton's Oddfellow's Casino sit to the left of contemporary folktronica acts from the obscure (Dollboy) to the famous (Zero 7). Raven's Empire is a thoroughly haunting affair, steeped in vintage synths, a 30 piece orchestra, dissonant horns and thoughtful vocals. Mystical song titles 'The Crows And The Rooks', 'The Day The Devil Slipped Away', 'Death Won't Have Me' evoke Hammer horror, The Wicker Man and American Gothic, but David Bramwell's quaint English vocalisation, pitched somewhere in the middle of Pink Floyd, Robert Wyatt, Talk Talk and Japan, have that ever so polite timbre which can subtly veer into the macabre.
¶ One could accuse this of being deadly serious, but the combination of rootsy guitars, bubbling synths, sparse, ornate productions and gentle, hushed vocals convey the otherworldly tones of an Neil Gaiman novel in which the new, the old, the peculiar and the supernatural tangentially exist together. Syd-like, utterly English and most impressive. / Website: drbramwell.com /MySpace: http://www.myspace.com/oddfellowscasino/ Genre: Electronica / Folk / Psychedelic
1. The Day The Devil Slipped Away 6:11
2. Winter In A Strange Town 3:39
3. We Will Be Here 4:45
4. Bluebirds 5:30
5. The Crows & The Rooks 3:01
6. When The Comet Came 5:50
7. You’ve Come To These Woods... 6:58
8. Death Won’t Have Me 5:36
¶ Founded by Brighton eccentric ‘Dr’ David Bramwell (“a medical man by rumour only”), Oddfellow’s Casino’s sporadic career could be ascribed to their leader’s restless, varied work-rate and the shifting obligations of the band members he borrows from groups such as Clearlake, Stereolab and former Pickled Egg label-mates The Go! Team.
The quirky English whimsy of Oddfellow’s 2002 debut Yellow Bellied Wonderland was beginning to be replaced by colder, darker concerns by the time of follow up Winter Creatures, and The Raven’s Empire continues this sundown journey into the bleakest season. This is an album revelling in harsh nature and unwelcoming towns, shot through with fear, death and the occasional uncanny visitor.
¶ The subtle production treatments by Grasscut’s Andrew Phillips add an unsettling, edge of the senses feel to many of the album’s songs, although Bramwell’s smooth, multi-tracked vocals sometimes sound like they’ve been possessed by a very depressed auto-tune. The soft, stately music of the current brass and woodwind coloured Oddfellow’s octet is cut from the same cloth as the various bands associated with Brighton’s Willkommen Collective (The Leisure Society et al), but The Raven’s Empire is in a more literary tradition.
¶ Death Won’t Have Me is an Anglicised, modernised retelling of Jean Cocteau’s ghost story Death and the Gardener, while the other-worldy presence in The Day the Comet Came comes from a Lovecraftian lineage. The bleak midwinter shivers of the album also echo with the supernatural fiction of English writers from M R James to Neil Gaiman. With its criss-crossing themes, multiple narrators and geographical specifics, the record is kin to the interlinked, time-spanning tales of Alan Moore’s eerie Northamptonshire novel Voice of the Fire – praise not given lightly.
¶ Although beautifully crafted and recorded, The Raven’s Empire is not a comforting listen for a chilly night alone. But for anyone with a taste for the sinister and the strange, such a listen is warmly recommended. / -Stuart Huggett-
¶ ‘Dr’ David ‘Oddfellow’ Bramwell is, it is claimed, a classic English eccentric. That last word should always inspire dread in those of us of a more cynical disposition, but there’s no denying that the sheer breadth of his creativity makes for an impressive CV before we even get to his music; he founded the Cheeky Guide book series, runs an anti-Room 101 night called the Catalyst Club, hosts a touring sing-along Wickerman tribute show, and has hosted an award-winning BBC Radio 3 show, The Haunted Moustache. Plus he’s a part-time primary school teacher. Despite this multi-faceted résumé he maintains that his primary focus is Oddfellow’s Casino his band named for the Victorian freakshow run by Ambrose Oddfellow. For all the curious endeavours mentioned above, The Raven’s Empire turns out to be pretty straight forward affair, which is not to say it’s a dull one, but rather it is an outlet for Bramwell to explore his more macabre and supernatural interests rather that the outright bizarre. Atmosphere is undeniably something for which the octet (backed by the Brighton and Hove Concert Band) have a talent. Opener ‘The Day the Devil Slipped Away’ is the perfect case in point, a tangled copse of delicate acoustic guitar, restless electric piano and burbling electronics. Unlike any other track on the record which is otherwise uniformly restrained, ‘The Day the Devil Slipped Away’ concludes in a cacophony of crashing cymbals and crunching guitars after a beautifully disquieting crescendo of brass, organ and dissonant synths.
¶ The mellifluous fingerpicking and clicking percussion of ‘Winter In a Strange Town’ make it sprightly and stripped back in comparison, emanating, in spite of its title, autumnal images of bronzed foliage and low dappled sunlight, redolent of The Clientèle at their most rustic. Nonetheless, there is still a lingering menace in the spectral choral effects and relentless repetition of the songtitle. This is a trick that is played to maximum effect on ‘We Will Be Here’ repeated as if an occult incantation, accompanied by the simple ritualistic pound of tom and snare it’s the one song where it feels like Bramwell is threatening devilish misdeeds rather than warning of them. The gorgeous ‘Bluebirds’ rounds off a decent first half, the stark beauty of the skeletal piano and spectral reverbed vocals is driven by a shuddering beat and buzzing synth line, pitching itself somewhere between the barest balladry of Antony Hegarty and the urgent momentum of Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’ soundtrack work, a nice hint of modernity for a group whose inspirations are steeped in the lore of the past.
Unfortunately, like an inexperienced huntsman in a dense forest, the second half of The Raven’s Empire sees Oddfellow’s Casino lose their way. The thrummed double-bass and truncated piano runs of ‘The Crows and the Rooks’ are sort of pleasant, but melodic shortcomings mean they fail to register any other effect. Despite the promising Chris Isaak-style slide-guitar of its intro, ‘When the Comet Came’ is rendered too drowsy by the lounge pacing and monotone vocals, which are made more nauseating by the autotune style effects. The attempt to liven things up with extra instrumentation towards the end only serves to overstuff the track. This is a fate also suffered by the plodding album closer ‘Death Won’t Have Me’, but in fairness it possesses a slightly more affecting air of melancholy.
¶ Thankfully, the album’s second side does possess one saving grace in the form of the exquisite ‘You Came To These Woods To Hunt Me’. Compared with the stuffier tracks it possess the cold harsh clarity of an Ingmar Bergman film, with stately piano fading in over the screech of distant dissonant voices until its only company is Bramwell himself. The lyrics and music are never more perfectly matched; a bell knells ominously (“The sky throws down an icy rain”) and warbling brass suffuses the chorus with warmth (“…warm your bones on a drop of rum”). None of the piling on instruments here, rather a stirring but restrained chorus leads into the wheezy harmonium of the second verse, gathering momentum and weight on its momentous trumpet-punctured march towards the songs end. This is The Raven’s Empire at its best. It succeeds in being both atmospherically true to its inspirations and personally affecting, the perfect balance of idiosyncrasy and dynamic songwriting. Oddfellow’s Casino never sound less than handsome, at least, but they can plainly do better.
Oddfellow´s Casino —The Raven´s Empire (2012)
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