It seems as if time has flown since I first covered Antun Opic, almost two years ago exactly. I’m happy to report though that his debut album, No Offense, has lived close to my CD player ever since. Now with a new four track EP, Shovel My Coal, there’s a chance to check in on progress and the signs are good. The stylistic variations are still there, as clever and imaginative as before, and while he remains hard to box-in musically, that’s surely to be applauded. Besides, it does all make sense as one body of work.
No Offense really is a cracking album, quite unlike anything else, a unique blend of different styles, influences and even characters as Antun takes on different voices to deliver different songs. There’s a tender side, but also something more louche and occasionally, even threatening. As he’s said before, there are some people on this record that you really don’t want to know.
It’s an interesting perspective to write from; how the character can own the song, giving the narrative a short cut and economy that can be hard to deliver otherwise. Whilst not everything he writes is directly autobiographical, he draws on his own experiences and worldview for a broad based source of inspiration.
One thing you can say for the Shovel My Coal is that the band seem to have tightened up into a powerful and purposeful unit. Everything was pretty much there for the debut to be honest, but the rhythmic snap of the song Shovel My Coal is impressive. A good part of that is the strength of the core trio with Antun still working with Tobias Kavelar (guitars) and Horst Fritscher (acoustic bass) who are joined by eight others for this EP.
Tobias was Antun’s guitar teacher and the heavens certainly aligned to bring them together. Tobias’ fluid playing, especially his Django-esque Gypsy-jazz licks are integral to the sound. There are a variety of styles and textures here and the arrangements are spot on, but some of the guitar work in particular is absolutely stonking. Crunching riffs, subtle asides, and exquisite details push these songs along with real panache.
The snap also comes from the bass department as well with its big woody growl as it syncopates its way through the title. The percussive drive is tight as a button and the stabs of brass add to taut and supple musical mix, with its almost Beefheart meets Django vibe. “I am your fuel, You Are my mule,” Antun sings changing to “You are my fool, I am your schedule,” While suggesting he has the whip hand. This is clearly no meeting of equals as he goes further, suggesting, “You’ll never play no starring role, I won’t grant you no parole, You’ll never reach your goal, Because you’re busy shovelling my coal.” There’s a great sax break from Heinz peters as the song takes on a Latin tinge in the middle section and Antun suddenly drops into French, adding an extra je ne sais quoi, before a flurry of guitar runs takes us to the finish.
The Journalist is a contrast with its crunching guitars, a proper rocker, which then takes a huge dynamic downshift, with the bass and acoustic guitars picking out the verses. Antun offers various takes on the journalistic perspective, suggesting a somewhat inflated self-worth as he intones variously, “Oh I’m a saint”, “Oh I’m a filter for the truth”, before upping the stakes with, “Oh I am god”, and, “I’ll put my eyes inside your head.” There are more guitar fireworks as the song works its way to a spectacular finale.
Hide And Seek, reintroduces the Latin flavour with a flamenco or Spanish style guitar. “One one thousand, Two one thousand,” Antun sings counting down the seconds as the game is afoot. With a slightly menacing tone he calls, “Come out, come out, wherever you are,” but also suggests, “I’ll hide here until you’ve found me.” There is a wonderfully bonkers, distorted guitar solo and a tuba bass, with a quick diversion into Klezmer style clarinet too. The song creates a strange, otherworldly feeling with what seems to be a game between two lovers, although there’s a final nightmarish twist in, “You found me – dead!”
The countdown is echoed in the quiet count in for the final Come With Me. It starts with some wonderful jazzy blues guitar, but the tone of the song is different. This time Antun isn’t just playing games, but is searching for a way to be together with the object of his affections. It sounds like there are struggles ahead in lines like, “I’ll show you a game, It’s not easy, The rules are changing everyday.” Antun is also caught between building a protective cage, promising, “We’ll bury the key, solemnly,” with the alternative being to flee, biting through the chains to make an escape. Without percussion, apart from that naturally derived from the guitars, but with a neat vocal chorus, there’s a kind of Kevin Ayers style whimsy, with a subtly impassioned need to make everything alright. In the end you feel he’ll do just that.
These four songs show real progress. The sound is tighter and perhaps more defined, although still working with a mixed bag of different emotions and stylistic variations. There is progress on the live front too, as Antun and band have just toured Italy and also played at the prestigious Montreux Jazz Festival, suggesting he’s finally getting an opportunity to step outside the domestic German market that has supported him thus far. I await with eager anticipation the chance to see him in the UK, because on the strength of this latest EP someone really should take a chance. These songs are, clever, funny, thoughtful, threatening, woozy and warm by turns, but above all, brilliantly written and played. Antun Opic and his band are a real one-off, a true original and there is enough musical fuel here to set the world around them on fire, in a blaze of glorious sound. They could and should be huge.
Review by: Simon Holland