B.D. Harrington is a singer-songwriter, filmmaker and painter with an obscure past (well, obscure in the sense that I can’t tell you much about him). He was born in Ireland then raised in Toronto, Canada – where he spends much of his time these days. He released his first album, The Kid Strays, in 2009, and this was followed four years later by Regarding The Shortness Of Your Breath; although they appeared on a small French label, both albums received a surprising amount of critical praise, and led to his gaining a considerable following in France, while he’s not hitherto penetrated the radar here in the UK as far as I know.
I’d like to think that Harrington’s third album, The Diver’s Curse, will change that, for it’s certainly a compelling collection of songs that exudes a bittersweet melancholy to offset the often quite desperate nature of his lyrics. The overall tone of his music is sombre, yet not necessarily gloomy – although the name most called to mind as an obvious influence will for many listeners be Leonard Cohen. However, the portentously significant aspect of his writing is arguably less prominent than the feel of introspectiveness and soul-searching more commonly associated with the likes of Will Oldham. Although they deploy taut poetic imagery (and even quote from existing poetical works on occasion), Harrington’s songs may also seem less tightly focused, more sprawling in the diversity of their imagery, almost as if their very allusiveness (and a certain elusiveness) is all that is required to take the listener along with their message or argument. Their almost exclusively slow pulse and ostensibly suffocating or dragging pace suits his drawling delivery and his personal brand of hushed intimacy, and musical settings are both supremely sparse and perversely rich.
We’re told that Harrington intended this new collection as a stripped-down vox-and-guitar set, but during its production decided to go back into the studio and rework the songs with a three-piece backing band comprising Adam Richens (guitar), Kel McKeown (drums) and Tom Goldsmith (bass), whose contribution is admirably unobtrusive. Harrington also employs very occasional – and equally unobtrusive – embellishments from piano, organ, cello, mandolin, violin, flute and cajon. Perhaps the richest song on the album in terms of poetic expression and musical conciseness is Contamana, but even the bleaker Black Waters possesses an electrifying, if mournful beauty. Throughout the album, Harrington’s lyrics tend to give voice to humanity’s familiar life-cycles of experience, regret and acceptance that lead back to reassessed experience and eventually renewal, as the present meets up with, and is necessarily informed by, the past. Musically too, Harrington’s reference-points and influences are unashamedly evoked yet not forced down our ears – for instance shades of Lou Reed (and perhaps Doug Hoekstra) on Boxers Hit Harder, Neil Young on Apple Cart, and (especially) early Leonard Cohen on the rippling, intense, spine-tinglingly pared-down One Match Left (for me the disc’s standout cut). The album’s one cover – the tender Andrew Sweeny song In Your Arms – fits in snugly with Harrington’s originals, and sports a lovely backing vocal from Barzin’s Suzanne Hancock.
Harrington’s music packs a considerable, and quite heady, emotional charge, very much in spite of its superficial impression of languid poise and its consistently lazy tempos that threaten to impose sleepiness; The Diver’s Curse certainly repays your very closest attention, and its meditative, insightful poetic inventions are destined to haunt you for a long time.
The Diver’s Curse is out now via Microcultures
Order via Bandcamp here: microcultures.bandcamp.com/album/the-divers-curse