Formed in New York, based in London and with Birmingham roots, The Amazing Devil are a new arrival on the alternative folk scene, built around the core duo of Irish-born actor-musician Joey Batey and Madeleine Hyland, a name you may well recognise as both the muse and female voice on Dexy’s One Day I’m Going To Soar album and accompanying tour. Here they go by the name The Blue Furious Boy and Scarlet Scarlet, respectively, the band fleshed out live by Catherine Wheel on electric guitar, cellist Hell Wish (Heloise Werner) and percussionist/flautist The Pesadelo (Mike Rothman).
As the names might suggest, there’s an air of the theatrical about them, both in performance and on record, while their acting background is evident in the wordplay and delivery of the lyrics. Their self-released debut is a striking amalgam of baroque pop, progressive folk and the experimental, the album bookended by two versions of the title track, the first, sung by Batey, opening with and backgrounded by snatches of what sounds like radio samples, a simple acoustic arrangement swelling into and fading out of a brief choral baroque.
Another quiet introduction follows with Hyland’s muted vocals and a gently picked, almost medieval guitar pattern before the dark, death-themed fairytale of King suddenly explodes into thundering drums and gutsy urgency driving the chorus menace of “I’ll keep the king, I’ll keep him safe from the dark things that wait in that house at the top of the rock”, Hyland’s jazzy folk delivery evocative of Jaquie McShee in early Pentangle days.
The duo trading verses, Pruning Shears is probably the catchiest track, again opening on a deceptively quiet acoustic note and hurried tumbling interwoven vocals, a condensed snapshot of the modern mating game that comes with the infection chorus hook of “ Roundabouts and washing lines, we do each other’s laundry in our hearts sometimes. Come back, Come back. We don’t have time to fuck around abouts and washing lines, we do each other’s laundry in our hearts sometimes”, which would sound great on radio were it not for the four letter elephant in the room.
Never mind, there’s always Shower Day, a fractured relationship song that once again builds from a simple acoustic beginning to swell midway through into a huge chorus of “for chrissake just say something.”
They ring the changes with Elena, a haunting a capella harmony anti-war number (“and when all the flowers are rotten, and all the cannons shot, I’ll scream, but you won’t hear ‘Forget me not’”), before heading into experimental prog-folk territory with the pulsing, earthy Celtic tribal feel of the five minute Pray, a heady lyrical cocktail of religion and womanhood as Hyland sings “I’m stronger now than you have ever known. The cracks you made I fill with mortar, a broken pot can still hold water. Symphonies and sweat and sex mean nothing when you are obsessed with sin and soil and strength and song and all the words that came out wrong and him.”
If there’s intensity there, light relief would seem to come with the six minute sparsely sung and played Little Miss Why So, although the romanticism of “every time we watch Netflix we spend two hours deciding what to watch on Netflix. And me wearing your clothes, just to surprise you when you come home all tired” gradually gives way to lyrics about depression in “what’s that hold that the big dark king of nothing has got on you my girl…Why so much make up? You don’t need it, you’re so beautiful to me.”
New York Torch Song is another lengthy number about a relationship in crisis, an unholy rebirth (“From within this gaping wound of ours, a new us has begun”) that, after its subdued intro, unfolds to more heavy drums, urgent tribal rhythm and background sirens as it builds to a tumultuous climax. On a kindred note, featuring a cracked piano, the penultimate, stripped down Two Minutes (five actually) sketches a mini drama of a broken marriage, infidelity and, heartrendingly, the children calling “If I’m good will you come back to us”.
And so, it ends where it began, the eight minute segue of the drums crashing mutant-shanty Not Yet into a reprise of Love Run suggesting the embattled protagonists of Fairytale of New York re-conceived by Jacques Brel for a Brecht cabaret scripted by Charles Bukowski, defiantly ending with the chorus “Love run love run for all the things we wished we’d done. Run from all you know that’s coming, run to show that love’s worth running to.”
One of the year’s most exhilarating, exciting and visceral debuts, they deserve to be huge.
Love Run is Out Now
Order via Bandcamp