Presented very much as a man for all seasons (his PR makes room for the poetry of Rumi, the angular electronica of Krautrock and the folk music of Tim Hardin), Findlay Brown’s third full album, if slightly slim at seven tracks, is in fact a lot less precious than the blurb, given that it boils down to two key facts; he’s a very good songwriter, and the songs are bloody excellent. It’s not a hard sell.
There’s a lot to be said for plainspeak, and going for the jugular. Slow Light has plenty of both, achieving that rarest of outcomes, songs that trigger immediate feelings of recognition and warmth and get better with repeated listens. A lot of that has to do with the delicate and highly melodic finger-picking that underpins the majority of the songs on Slow Light. The rest is, potentially, to do with the numerous and disparate influences mentioned above, which have helped to shape arrangements and sounds not normally associated with the fey bedsit male and his six-string companion. It’s no surprise to learn, for instance, that Brown also dabbles in the world of DJs and regularly co-hosts African themed dance nights. The combination is intoxicating.
Slow Light opens with Run Home. The melody is reminiscent of early 70s Neil Young, but with a sweeter voice cradling introspective lyrics. The sound is full and fleshed out, and, after a false end, returns with the key motif in an almost choral wall of tracked vocals; a pointer to the more esoteric sounds that lie in wait. The first of those arrive at the beginning of Make A Getaway, its sinister, atmospheric instrumentation distinctly 80s in feel. The song opens into a true pop journey, complete with ‘woah-ohs’ and synth notes straight out of Ultravox circa Vienna and Quartet. Equally wonderful is Mountains Fall For The Sea, where Brown’s silvery tone carries love and regret in equal measure.
Made Of Stone is percussive and upbeat, built on pulsing single note keys not dissimilar to those used so effectively by Beach House on 2012s Bloom. That echo of the dance floor is amplified by Beyond The Void (Part II), a short, electronic instrumental that builds layers of competing rhythm and sound until abruptly stopping. It’s experimental compared with the album’s fare to date, but remains in sync with the journey.
The final two songs hint at the commercial promise of Brown’s music, a promise given precedent when Come Home (from 2007 debut Separated By The Sea) was chosen for a global credit card advert. All Is Love (video premiered on Folk Radio UK) is a mash up of the post-Fab Four McCartney’s preference for sugar-sweet words and Harrison’s quasi-mystical hippy aesthete. It works, partly due to the honesty and a damn good melody; it’s not a massive leap to imagine lighters borne aloft in stadiums. Alone Again returns to the simplicity of the album opener, choosing a metronomic backing rhythm to back a simple, finger-picked guitar. It’s the sound of a busy mind searching for respite after a storm of creativity, the slow light fading comfortably into the background in what will surely be someone’s future lullaby.
Brown has been quoted as saying he’s searching for a new way to say the same things. Whether he’s succeeding or not is somewhat irrelevant given the quality and beauty of the songs on Slow Light, which must be considered a candidate for those end-of-year ‘best of’ lists. Make sure it’s on yours.
Review by: Paul Woodgate
Out Now via DPC Records