Robert “Hacker” Jesset and Anne Gilpin of Morton Valence have always prided themselves on their unfaltering ability to make music their own way. What began as a 3-piece electro outfit in the mid 00s, in recent years has developed into a 5-piece band performing what they describe as ‘Urban Country’; an imitation of Southern American Country re-applied to living beneath the shadow of ‘The Old Smoke’.
Throughout their career they’ve been compared to Velvet Underground and Pulp and pigeonholed as Pop, Kraut Rock and Punk. They are certainly a band that likes to cover a lot of ground and it’s this melange of musical moments that makes Morton Valence such a refreshingly turbulent listen. After a spot of record label trouble, a lengthy hiatus and well-earned positive press for their first two preceding albums, they return with the release of their third L.P, ‘Left’.
If it wasn’t Hacker and co. you might consider a band picking a portrait picture of Joseph Stalin’s fixed, assured stare for their album cover unusual. However the image’s dark undercurrents are not that far removed from some of the bleaker themes revealed over the course of the record.
The Day I Went To Bed For 10 Years opens the album and the listener slips into oblivion, greeted by gloomy synth pads and trembling electric guitar lines that conjure up images of post apocalyptic conditions. Slowly a cello seeps into the mix and all is salvaged by the soothing sigh of running water and the subtle hammering on of an acoustic guitar.
‘10 Years…’ becomes a hypnotic memoir as Hacker repeats the restful hook “Nice Feeling” and then explores the darkness surrounding it. Hacker’s first person narrative is summed up effortlessly in the lines “A different pair of shoes, but the same old skin” as he recounts his life as a pestered star, coke addict, beatnik layabout to that of a lover and father. Ultimately, he opts for simpler, but more sincere pleasures and from the lips of an individual who has truly had to come to terms with the unpredictability of life through experience, the piece is left open-ended with the jaded declaration: “Nice feeling… for awhile”.
After that you’re immediately hit with the resounding force of a drum machine and a contorted, fuzz-heavy riff, as Chaps firmly shakes you awake. It seems as if a hung-over Tom Waits has made a guest appearance and is trying to recall and piece together a bastardised version of some guitar-driven, golden oldie from the jukebox of some long forgotten saloon bar.
Clouds sounds as if Angus & Julia Stone had actually boarded that ‘Big Jet Plane’ they’re always singing about. Gilpin’s expansive synth parts and airy, layered vocals are gorgeously complemented by the Alan Cook’s pedal steel guitar work. As Hacker and Gilpin toy with the idea that “Life is just like the clouds, doing their own thing” they touch again upon the idea of life being an ever changing, unreliable thing of wonder and decisively sigh “I guess words have nothing to say”, as in they can’t ‘directly’ change life’s course.
Hacker’s creative storytelling and his finely displayed lyrical prowess, allow Morton Valence, through unique personal accounts to touch on much wider, universal issues, such as deterioration, acceptance, death and love and its vices. Furthermore, you begin to feel their ‘genre-hopping’ is a result of their instinctive efforts to create an atmosphere around the stories being told, using whichever genre, instrument or field recording* necessary to conjure up the desired soundscape. *(Listen closely to the train announcements and cars passing through the rain in ‘Lost Forgotten Boy).
Old Punks, Pt. 1 softly recalls the life of a London bred Punk and his die-hard philosophy and then screeches into Pt. 2, which is 46 seconds of venom, proving the old punks still have it in’em.
Left also features two outstanding interpretations of other artist’s work. Randy Newman’s In Germany Before The War sounds as sombre as ever, with Gilpin taking up commiserative lead vocal duties. The song metaphorically tackles the subject of Germany as it sinks into a period of dismay and terror; it’s definitely one of the more cheerless and gripping moments of the album.
Standout track The Return Of Lola trumps both the unfurling, ‘post-rock meets mellow psychedelia’ of Slide, Don’t Try and the enticingly destructive storyline of Boyfriend On Remand. It’s a forceful re-incarnation of The Kinks classic ‘Lola’ and highlights the best songwriting on the album; it’s something the Davies brothers would be proud of. Re-jigging ‘Lola’ is a bold, but nevertheless, successful move, as for the majority of listeners a connection is made with The Return Of Lola instantly, it’s an undisputed anthem; therefore the intention of the lyrics is resolutely driven home.
As Gilpin admits, “You know this song, every part of it, you are the singer and the writer and the star in it” and this is definitely relatable to what Morton Valence have achieved with ‘Left’; they immerse you in the tale, recounting dead end scenarios and suppressed scenes and one way or another will make you live through them.
Review by: David Weir
Left is released 18th August via Bastard Recordings.