Sometimes, you have to go elsewhere to find your muse. Travel, after all, broadens the mind. For musicians, the journey is often the reward but occasionally, it’s the destination that helps trigger inspiration. It’s approximately 16 miles from Tim Crabtree’s hometown Burnley to Halifax in neighbouring Yorkshire. Crabtree, otherwise known as Paper Beat Scissors, wasn’t satisfied with a move from the industrial north of England to the industrial north of England, so he upped sticks to the wide-open spaces and rugged coastline of Nova Scotia’s Halifax. Two thousand, seven hundred miles and a lifetime later, a university place has evolved into membership of a thriving music scene perhaps best personified by the label Crabtree released his eponymous debut in 2012, Forward Music Group. His follow up, Go On, is released in the UK on February 19. Recorded by Dean Nelson (Beck, Bat For Lashes), Go On is a record of intimate soundscapes that wears its artistry lightly whilst dragging you into its complex depths. How does Paper Beat Scissors? It owes its strength to the invisible fibers forged in the pre-A4 mulch that bond to withstand the sharpest of cuts. Go On may bleed, but it does so beautifully.
‘Enough’ is a bouillabaisse of dampened electric beats and swirling melody, overlaid with a caramel smooth voice. Like almost everything on the album, it’s immediately captivating, full to the brim with diversion; below the opaque surface there are eddies and currents, detours and dead ends that beckon your ears on whilst the core melody drifts away out of reach and reappears at will. As if all too aware of the effort required on the part of the listener to find their way back to open skies, follow up ‘Lawless’ restricts it’s output to a lovely melody, simple, off-beat rhythm and the hint of a shaker for a shimmer of percussion. It’s a palate cleanser, until it bursts into life with churning guitar, proving Go On won’t be restrained for its entirety. The ghostly scratches that accompany the beginning of the coda are the sounds of tired emotions coming into land.
Track three ‘When You Still’ completes a diverse opening trio by coming on strong like a modern pop song (Sia springs to mind; don’t be scared y’all, this is a good thing) before leaving the beaten track for bumpier roads. The impression is of a restless composer, struck by the opportunities afforded someone unafraid to cross, and mix, their genres. Always, though, the experimentation is anchored to a carefully considered sensibility that never forgets to bring the song.
‘Wouldn’t’ is a great example, Crabtree summarising the tenet of the record in its opening lyric, ‘Are we always looking out for something new?’ over pulsing guitar and keys that can’t help but induce head nodding and foot tapping. There’s a nice key change halfway through but the rhythm and timing remain the same, bringing to mind the solid progressive structures of Dark Side Floyd and the keyboard grandeur of Steven Wilson’s epics, but in a pastoral, soft-core folk setting. Crabtree knows how to end a song well too (it’s an article in itself, right?) and ‘Wouldn’t’, like ‘Lawless’ before it and several after, treats your ears to a fitting outcome lacking in so many compositions these days. ‘Wouldn’t’s chugging noise-scape is replaced with ‘Unfazed’s’ clean piano notes and simple guitar line. Crabtree’s voice clings to normality, similar to Damien Rice, trying not to crack. Again, the coda is superb, a wash of watercolour, slowly seeping into your mind as this short and sweet song fades away.
‘Onwards’ is even more restrained. The song is barely there, muted heartbeat percussion and an agonising vocal that’s only let loose in the last 45 seconds with a long, last howl into ‘Altona’, where the same voice stretches through the scales accompanied by picked guitar. Needless to say, the melodies are beautiful, even when semi-sacrificed for the sake of drama. Instrumental ‘a Reprieve’ tumbles over itself looking for a resolution, and you’re left wanting until ‘Bundled’, Go On’s pinnacle, arrives. Built on a slow military snare with fiddle and brass figures, ‘Bundled’s’ melody is largely carried for the first couple of minutes by Crabtree’s voice alone. At 3:24 a double-tracked vocal forces a change in mood, the song held together on a tension that ratchets up, keening fiddle and questioning lyrics searching and seeking before the instruments deconstruct, piece by piece. Light and shade aren’t new but using them well is still a rarity; Crabtree nails it on ‘Bundled’.
It’s almost a surprise to find there’s still a song left after ‘Bundled’, and none more so than the title track. Slices of jazz and improv, a cacophony of soft voice and woodwind, it neatly ties up the wide-ranging influences of Go On, leading them to a very satisfying vanishing point. Those influences could include (but aren’t necessarily overt) John Martyn, Moby, The Shins, Findlay Brown – a recent Folk Radio parishioner – and a largely forgotten but utterly brilliant group from the late 90s called Unbelievable Truth (notable for being the home of Thom Yorke’s brother for a time). If that isn’t eclectic enough for you, Crabtree has toured with Sun Kil Moon, Great Lake Swimmers and Inuit throat singer Tanya Tagaq.
Go On is a folk-pop-ambient-electronica soup of loveliness that sits in the groove where humble (but too-cool-for-school) composers live. This is minimalist-creative that adds up to more than the sum of its parts, where occasional flashes of brilliance light the skies above and rich seams of songwriting excellence act as bedrock. The album penetrates your conscious on the first listen and unfolds as all its glorious fecundity comes flooding to the surface. It’s true, you just want it to go on.
Review by: Paul Woodgate
UK & European Tour
Feb 11 – Lisbon, PT: Lusitano Club (Rua dos Prazeres 52, 1200-355)
Feb 12 – Porto, PT: O Meu Mercedes (Rua da Lada 30, 4050-328)
Feb 13 – Vila Real, PT: Club de Vila Real
Feb 15 – Évora, PT: Oficina, Rua de Moeda
Feb 17 – Jerez, ES: La Libreria, Calle Zaragoza 2
Feb 18 – Seville, ES: Ánima Galería-Taberna
Feb 19 – Madrid, ES: Wharf 73 (c/Colón, 12)
Feb 24 – Sheffield, UK: Cafe #9, 9 Nether Edge Rd
Feb 25 – Durham, UK: Empty Shop HQ
Feb 26 – Newcastle, UK: The Butterfly Cabinet
Feb 28 – Nottingham, UK Jam Cafe
Feb 29 – Leeds, UK Gaslight Club at OportoBar, 33 Call Lane
Mar 01 – London, UK: Aces & Eights, 156-158 Fortess Rd, NW5 2HP
Mar 03 – Bristol, UK: The Old England Pub
Mar 04 – Birmingham, UK: Café Ort
Mar 05 – Bury, UK: The Metropolitan Theatre
Photo Credit: Nick Wilkinson