A bold statement.
Not too long ago i was reading over Leeds Music Forum on which there was a thread giving Phoenix a bit of a slagging because they had said something along the lines of the fact that there hadn't been a single GREAT (this is a word you'll have to get used to in this post) album to come out of the UK since My Bloody Valentine's Loveless. This sparked off quite a stink as you can imagine, but although not being the worlds biggest Phoenix fan i wouldn't usually take their opinion with much more than the proverbial grain of salt. However, other than maybe OK Computer, 13 and Screamadelica, there weren't THAT many suggestions that people could really fit into the category of 'greatness'.
Obviously what one classes as 'great' can be argued, however there are certain albums in history that even if it is not personally liked by yourself, you can't deny the impact of i.e. Sgt Pepper, Dark Side Of The Moon (which i do not personally care for too much).
But if we bring the time scale forward a little to involve only the past decade, i think a whole new picture has been painted. In the age of the internet you no longer need a record deal in order to release your record (not that you ever did but that's besides the point), and what that means is that the sheer volume of records out there that go 'unheard' is astronomical, and so one cannot be blamed for missing something that has slipped under the radar.
I could spend all day contemplating what has been 'great' in the past 10 years. If i opened this up to a worldwide scale you'd have albums like Scott Walker's 'The Drift' to contend with, however i am talking solely about the UK.
So after much deliberation, and spending the hours in which i cannot sleep contemplating, i truthfully feel i should tell you all about an album by Duels called The Barbarians Move In. Originally signed to Virgin ('let go' after their first album) and promised the world, for the bands second record (TBMI) was released on a smaller indie label 'This Is Fake DIY Records' in 2008.
So now comes the difficult task of describing what makes this record so, well, great! I'll try and keep it as brief as possible by picking some choice moments. It's not an easy task because if i could describe every note on this record to you, i would.
Press play... after a small synth swell BANG, we are straight in. It feels like even on the first guitar riff of 'The Furies' along with the thumping kick drum, you just know this album is gonna be 'serious'. This feeling is exaggerated with the sound of what could be banshees yelping in the distance. Jon Foulger's voice is unsettling, yet beautiful as he delivers the line "we will find you, and we will show no mercy".
This 'darkness' is a theme throughout the entire album and so many of you reading this will probably assume that it appeals to me for this reason, but the quality of song writing, lyrics, performances simply cannot be denied.
""Awww, why you always sleepy?" Do your black wings beat like the black eyed crow?"
'Regeneration' is one of the most exciting pieces of composition i have heard in more than the 10 years in question. And it is just that... It's exciting. When hearing James Kenosha's almost tribal drums you'd be forgiven for referencing Marilyn Manson's 'The Beautiful People', but only for the rhythm i assure you, what follows is an onslaught of musical brilliance. The banshees are back again, backed by jagged, distorted guitars, building up to the epic chorus of "Save what you can (We're regenerating)". Katherine Botterill's backing vocal sends shivers up my spine with the back drop of crashing guitars. But it's when the song dips in volume, as Jon makes us squirm in our seats with the lyric "soon enough i told you, soon enough i said" that we are about to be granted with a final farewell. This comes in the form of a sheer barrage of crunch covered guitars as the chorus ascends one last time. It really is an exhilarating experience, and one that is hard to put into words.
"So tell me everything, what caved you in? When did Barbarians quietly move in?"
Besides the simply astounding musical performances on this record, the lyrical content is extremely poetic, and ranges from complexity to down right simplicity. It is very hard to find a balance between these two ends of the scale, but Jon Foulger manages to pull this off at a high level. One of my favourite examples of this is on 'The Perimeter Fence'. After the sparse drum intro and acoustic guitar, you can almost feel the desperation as Foulger simply says, "Nothing ever changed did it?". What follows is the opposite end of the scale, "your mother got her teeth fixed, but still she says the same things". But there is something about that opening line and the way it is delivered. The fact that he is both telling us, and asking us such a simple question to which we all know the answer. For such a simple lyric to have such a dramatic effect on me is very rare.
"The birds sing to the tune 'I told you so'"
The piano chord sequence on The Healing makes me marvel. Part of it's brilliance is that when it's trucking along with the kick drum and tambourine in the background, you think you've got the measure of it. The backing vocals have a 'Sympathy for the Devil' feel to them. But the chorus of this song is a perfect example of what makes this record such a gem. Foulger sings "All i need now is the healing" over this wonderful unexpected ascension of chords, that are almost uplifting behind the upsetting lyric.
When the strings are finally introduced along with Maher's fuzzy bass line, it really is the icing on the cake, building up to an ending with the same pace as where we started.
"I have had my piece of the frauds and the sluts"
My favourite track on the album is called "The First Time/The Last Time". The echoes of a suicidal person maybe, or just a cry of desperation, "I want to hear the church bells ringing out for the last time". With this song we really are entering an emotional territory that i find difficult to put into words. The vocal delivery is flawless, it almost has a Bowie like quality to it. Just a single acoustic guitar over a backdrop of ambient noise which builds and builds, a kick drum, and those lyrics... those lyrics. "We all stood there living proof that all things must come to pass". This song genuinely brings tears to my eyes. Every single time i hear it.
"Silent prayers on a tossing sea, Is there any hope for me?
The album closer, title track "The Barbarians Move In" is the perfect example of how to close an album of this calibre. Beautifully and dramatically. As the strings sweep and swell, there is almost an air of Portishead. With a chorus that relies on nothing other than the strong string arrangement and a collection of vocals all chanting the same line together. Simply song writing at it's best.
"I could chew through the walls and meet you on the outside, I could dash out your brains under moonlit skies or I could show you some forgiveness for all the time"
As i said above, i could sit here an describe every song, note,lyric, string arrangement, vocal and everything else on this record, but i feel i would be simply repeating myself over and over as i try to convey my love for this record. I know i haven't mentioned Wolvesland, This Year's Man etc but i feel like i've given you enough evidence that you would be a fool to not at least hear this album.
So all i can do is give you this link (provided by the band, and totally legal) where you can download the album for free: http://www.duelsmusic.co.uk/mp3/duels_tbmi_090599.zip
I just feel i should say a little something to clear up any peoples opinions that may think i am biased, as is it no secret that Jon Foulger and James Kenosha play in my live band. I had listened to this album a long time before I ever met Jon. I kind of knew James (ish), but it was only when my close friend Fran Rodgers started a relationship with Jon that i got to know him. So, as you can imagine, feeling the way i do about this record, it can only be described as an honour that when i asked them to be a part of my band, they said yes.
So, there you have it. Duels - The Barbarians Move In. The greatest album to come out of the UK in the past 10 years? I think so. And remember, it's just my opinion.