Monday, June 29, 2015

11 Shades of Love: Track-by-Track

You may remember Quiet Marauder as the creators of MEN, the 111-track quadruple album that came out towards the end of 2013, topped my Albums of the Year list that December, and made us all think long and hard about what it means to be a man. Conversely, you may never have heard of Quiet Marauder in your life, in which case the previous sentence probably blew your mind a little.

Either way, Quiet Marauder are back. Their second album, entitled 11 Shades of Love, is out today (buy it here), and while it's only one-tenth as long as its predecessor, I'm pleased to report that the band are still needling humankind's little foibles and nonsenses with just as much accuracy as in 2013.

Attempting a track-by-track review of MEN would be a fool's errand (it might make a good 33 1/3 book, but I very much doubt that I'm the man to pen it.) 11 Shades of Love, on the other hand, is a far more digestible affair; it's a full 100 songs lighter than its big brother, and in stark contrast to the complex mesh of ideas and narratives that was spread across MEN's four discs, we've only a single theme to worry about here. Sure, love is arguably the most complicated subject matter imaginable, but at least it's just one thing.

So, without further ado, here's a breakdown of Quiet Marauder's surprisingly straightforward second album:

1. Don't Think for a Second
A relatively low-key opener, consisting of nothing more than vocals, plucked acoustic guitars, and - in the second verse - a lovely brass figure. I guess the title is a tip for falling in love with someone: don't think too hard about what they're telling you, because at this early stage they'll only be showing you a very specific version of themselves (if not outright lying to you - "truth barely has one true face at all").

2. Let Me Get to Know You
Quiet Marauder like to mix comedy with tragedy and this song is an excellent example of that.

At first, Let Me Get to Know You seems entirely silly, an excuse for Simon Read to recite some of his favourite cringe-inducing chat-up lines, but repeat listens reveal the song's rather sadder underbelly: those cheesy chat-up lines are the protagonist's only means of communicating with the opposite gender, and even when they work at first, he's doomed to sabotage himself by continuing to spout them until the other person loses interest.

3. Would It Be Weird?
Yes, it would. But that's love!

4. From Cairo to Constantinople
Jonathan Day's sole songwriting contribution to 11 Shades is a globetrotting micro-epic that takes us to more than a dozen different locations in just a couple of minutes. The song's production makes his voice sound very far away, creating the illusion that Quiet Marauder's second songwriter really is in all the far-flung places he's naming (which would explain why he didn't have time to sing more than one song for this album). From Cairo to Constantinople is a fun change of both pace and voice that helps to keep the record fresh, although I have to ask: did nobody tell Mr Day that it's Istanbul, not Constantinople?

5. I Won't Let You Become a Waster
A song for weedy boyfriends who can't do the heroic boyfriend things (fighting off attackers, protecting their women) that stereotype demands of them. However, there are some things that we can do - this song's narrator, for example, can make nice sandwiches and put the washing out. I like how much more confident the music becomes when he's listing what few merits he does have.

That said, is it really a nice thing to prevent your girlfriend from becoming a porn star or an undercover cop? YOU DON'T GET TO CHOOSE HER CAREER FOR HER, MR MARAUDER.

6. Will You Be My Buddy?
The album's middle track is a sea of chaotic electro weirdness, which I suppose is appropriate given that it's a song about Tinder and other digital dating services. Personally, I find this one a little difficult to listen to - the rhythm feels a little bit off at times - but I do like how the protagonist, his thumbs sore from swiping right and exchanging dirty messages, eventually abandons his quest for a fuck buddy and starts looking for someone with whom he can sit on the sofa and discuss literature instead.

7. Happy Hour
A short one, this. Happy Hour is a song about trying to remember last night, and the music conveys that beautifully; even if the lyrics were removed entirely, Francesca Dimech's mournful trumpet part would still perfectly evoke the blurry regret of having pissed off your other half while drunk and subsequently forgotten what exactly you did.

8. Beauty Spot
I'm very fond of this one - it's a sweet, summery ode to those little moles and imperfections that you hate in yourself but find irresistible in potential romantic partners. Music for a sunny afternoon spent lying on the grass.

9. Hit Me, Lover, One More Time
11 Shades of Love is an album about the trends and fads of 21st century love as much as about love in general. We've already heard the band's take on Tinder (see track 6) and chat-up lines (track 2); here, Quiet Marauder weigh in on Christian Grey-style BDSM. They don't sound entirely convinced of the appeal of rough lovin', but Hit Me is an appealingly dramatic cut, not too dissimilar in sound and feel to This is Not a War from MEN. Of course, that song was about torturing the people who might pose a threat to your relationship, whereas this song is about torturing the person you're in a relationship with, but both appeal to the same primal, nasty part of the brain.

10. Sky Full of Lagoons
In which Quiet Maruader *almost* write a traditional 'moons in June' love song...then abruptly turn on their heels and take the whole thing apart like a Lego house. Weirdly, though, this deconstruction of romantic hyperbole...

I don't have a hot air balloon able to reach the moon any time soon,
And the moon is no lagoon,
It's a giant piece of debris we naively write our love songs to,
And maybe that says something about who we are.

...somehow manages to be the most romantic song on the whole album. If, for some reason, you decide to put a Quiet Marauder track on a loved-up mixtape for your other half, Sky Full of Lagoons is the one to go for.

11. Please Don't Let Me Die (In This Small Toilet Cubicle)
The album's eleventh and final song is a great encapsulation of the previous ten: desperation, confusion, that sick feeling in your stomach, and a weird sort of fuzzy romance that should be dampened by QM's fondness for unpleasant details (a nasty public loo, in this case) but somehow, against all odds, isn't.

I suppose love is wherever you find it, even if it's in between heart palpitations on the floor of a Wetherspoons bathroom.

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