Wednesday, February 8, 2017

A Rattle Through Fragments & Curiosities by Armstrong

Some years ago, I downloaded A Brilliant Escape. a free sampler from Ontario-based record label The Beautiful Music. This compilation (still freely available here if you fancy a listen) brightened up many a dreary afternoon at work back when I first acquired it in 2013, and even now I find it a far more enjoyable listen than many albums I actually paid money for. A Brilliant Escape is very generous for a free sampler, offering up lots of good songs and several great ones: my personal favourites are the weepy I Hope He's Everything You Wanted Me to Be by Scottish miserablists The Just Joans and a wonderful track called This One by somebody named Armstrong.

This One (click here to listen) is a gorgeous little pop song that sounds downbeat as heck yet bright and hopeful nonetheless, like a ray of sunlight pushing with all its might through a heavy blanket of grey cloud. It was lovely, therefore, to be reminded of Armstrong's existence recently by the announcement of Fragments & Curiosities, a new long-player made up of 'rare tracks and semi-live rehearsals'. Subtitled The 4Track Sessions, the album makes for a varied and occasionally bumpy listen, but on the whole it's just as affecting as This One - and it balances optimism with melancholy just as adroitly.

The fifteen tracks that make up Fragments & Curiosities can be roughly divided into two opposing camps. There are the lush, twinkly compositions, each one swirled with synthetic strings like a stick in a candyfloss machine; and there are the more bare-bones recordings that consist only of a raw acoustic guitar track and the voice of Armstrong (a.k.a. Julian Pitt) himself. The more layered songs - Pilgrim Heart, for example - are closer in sound to This One, but interestingly it's the stripped-back numbers that come closer to replicating that track's effect on me.

Three moments stand out in particular. First there's Can't Be Bought, a gentle ode to a person who's better than the world deserves. This is immediately followed by a live take of the breezy, vaguely awestruck Crazy World. Both of these songs find Julian Pitt reaching for the high end of his vocal register, and both of them are arresting and moving in their simplicity.

Then, later on, there's the final track: the plaintive I'll Never Lie (But One Day I Will Speak the Truth). This is one of the less polished recordings in the Fragments & Curiosities collection, but what it lacks in sonic finesse it makes up in emotional heft and sighing, self-inflicted sorrow.

Appropriately enough for an album with the word 'fragments' in its title, the inability to open oneself up and properly connect with other people is something of a running theme for Fs & Cs. Aside from I'll Never Lie, there are track titles like Break It in Two and Sometimes I Wish I Could Drive - titles that suggest separation and distance, respectively - and there's the very pretty opening track My Resistance, which is all about the barriers the people build to keep one another at arm's length.

Still, perhaps it's daft to go looking for themes and patterns in a compilation of odds and ends that is by its own admission fragmented and haphazard. Instead, I'll leave you with the assurance that this album's terrain, though rough, is rather rewarding; check it out on Bandcamp or order the CD from The Beautiful Music's website.

No comments:

Post a Comment