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Sunday, 29 September 2013

Beautiful Hell, ahab's new album

In terms of being unemployed in Hackney on a weekday afternoon this was a bit like winning the lottery. There was (a) a copy of ahab's forthcoming new album, called Beautiful Hell, sitting on the pub picnic table in front of me and (b) Dave Burn getting increasingly slurry and whimsical on the other side of it.

Over the course of a few messy and hilarious hours given in the service of this blog - it's a tough job etc - several things lodged themselves in the increasingly mushy folds of my mind. Firstly, ahab is a man down this time around.

Callum Adamson, of the 12-string guitar, has departed. This is because his partner has had a baby and the line is that he needs to make a more stable home for his family than is presently possible as a musician playing Americana - however brilliantly - in a country that isn't the US. Since I, coincidentally, saw him disappearing into the office of a media company on Dean Street in Soho earlier this month - his day job has always been in digital media - it looks as if the plan may be working out.

"He's still on the books and he's got writing credits for the album. But I don't know whether he's coming back," said Burn, who along with Luke Price and Seebs Llewellyn, is the remainder of the song-writing quartet.

Secondly, the album cover bears a picture of a brothel in Spain taken by David Emery, a friend of the band, which is therefore also the significance of the the discarded mattresses on the slip, and was deemed appropriate subject matter for an album called Beautiful Hell.

"But don't mention that if you write something."

OK, Dave.

And third, ahab is having more and more trouble online over the fact that they share a name with a German doom metal band. This has potential for hilarity - the other band is very doomy - but it's also a marketing handicap in a small digital universe. "I've been in touch by email with them a lot," said Burn, "and it's all very amicable - I like their stuff. The trouble is that we both started out at roughly the same time and though we've tried to differentiate ourselves with upper and lower case letters, that doesn't always help and there's one new and important site - called Bands in Town - that keeps sending messages out to our fans saying that we're playing gigs in Germany."

He looked a bit glum.

"I don't know what's going to happen with that. I suppose it's possible that we'll end up having to change our name. Both bands seem to be doing OK..."

The response ahab gets online is strong - watch the avalanche of "likes" and comments pile up when they post something - so it would be a shame to have to take a step back, which is what a name change would involve, if they go properly global. And since there may be a US tour in the offing...

Which brings me to the album. On first listen I was inclined to think that without Adamson and John Leckie - who mixed their eye-opening KMVT EP in 2010 - there was a certain kick-arse quality that was missing. But I've actually changed my mind.

There's a sweetness to it that is a lot to do with Burn and Price's voices. But there's also enough dramatic light and shade - particularly toward the back end of the album - to make you want to listen over and over. The trick with a band that is as good as they are live, is punching that quality into the mix. I'm not sure they've quite pulled it off on this occasion. But the songwriting is as strong as ever and I'm looking forward to hearing it from a stage. Preferably a large one. This is a high quality album from a band with a lot of petrol in its tank.

Specifically In My Dreams feels like a departure, a kind of sweeping, 80s-themed reverie with a vein of synth running through it; while This War has a riff that could be a tribute to Big Country, a band buried deep in ahab's genetics.

Rescue Me - I think, it's not listed so let the CD run to the end - is my favourite track, megaphone hystrionics and all, and I can't find it yet online. Personally, I think the more stressed out and strung out they sound the better...

ahab deserves far more success than they've had so far - despite what sounds like several near-misses with the major leagues. I wonder whether a US tour will finally give them the oxygen they need?

* You can buy Beautiful Hell here and they kick off their UK tour in Southampton on October 1.

* If you'd like to read more about ahab there's this, about the first time I heard them, including an interview with Cal Adamson. And there's this about them and Show of Hands at the Bristol festival in 2012.

* If you'd like to receive posts from this blog directly into your Facebook newsfeed, you could *like* its Facebook page and then use the drop-down menu to indicate that it's one of your "interests". This will enhance the possibility that you'll get them. You could also follow me on Twitter @emma1hartley

1 comment:

  1. This confusion extends --- North Dorset Folk Festival last Saturday saw Emily Barker (Dear River) and Emily Baker (All At Sea) meet for the first time. The latter was first support for the former and their friends/fans often confuse the two, it seems.


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