Laish is singer-songwriter and guitarist Danny Green alongside assorted (very fine) musicians and backing singers. This third album – following the self-titled debut in 2010, and 2013’s Obituaries – rings a few changes for Danny.
First, he’s moved from Brighton to London, ‘I could feel myself becoming fossilised in Brighton, hardening into the grooves of my drinking and laziness so before I became fully set in amber, I dragged myself away and moved to London.’ (Which also gives you an insight into his raw, honest songwriting.)
Secondly, it’s the first Laish album to be recorded in a professional studio, with Pendulum Swing being co-produced and engineered by Dave Gerard. As a result, the sound is more polished than previous releases, and it falls squarely into the category of pop/acoustic rather than the folkier edge of the past.
But don’t be put off by the ‘pop’ label, not only does this get rocky at times (if not folk-rocky), it is also an expertly crafted set of songs. Danny reveals a depth of confessional melancholy and sharp observations of contemporary life that I know will appeal to many Folk Radio UK devotees.
The album opens with one of its strongest tracks, Vague. Driven by a melodic guitar riff backed by strings, it perfectly encapsulates the dichotomy at the heart of Laish. It’s a gorgeously poppy and euphonic tune, but underneath Danny’s lyrics spin a different, darker tale. Here are the opening lines: ‘We are vague and full of pathos/ Dead men’s words tower above us/ Are we capable of original thought?’
Vague holds back the refrain, ‘I think I feel safe in my home’ until six verses have passed. It’s an unsettling phrase repeated as the track concludes (the final time ominously omitting the final word) and the song sets a mission statement for Pendulum Swing, not to judge by appearances – to lift up the rocks and see the mini beasts crawling around unseen.
Another standout track is the Kubrick-riffing Learning to love the bomb which plays a similar trick. Over a sunny, eminently danceable backing, Danny sings, ‘Keep up with/ It’s never ending/ I fear, I fear we near an ending/ But I’m learning I’m learning I’m learning/ To love the bomb’. Although written and recorded way before the US Presidential Elections, the song has an even more disturbing resonance post-Trump’s victory. Pre-empting the paranoia and confusion of current times reveals further evidence of Green’s songwriting skills.
But don’t go thinking this is all gloom from a prophet of doom, the album is ultimately an uplifting experience. Laish’s website claims that Danny is a known for ‘stunning live performances’ and – while the reviews back that up – I’m sad to say I haven’t seen him live (though I definitely plan to now). You can get a flavour of Green’s personality from the three inventive and fun promo videos for three of Pendulum’s singles, all starring Danny.
My little prince is another fantastic song, superbly arranged and, like Love the Bomb sounding like it would have been a hit in the mid-90s, reminiscent of quirky songwriting from the likes of Pulp, The Divine Comedy and Space.
And it’s great that this type of intelligent (folky) pop is once again reaching a wider audience, and telling that the appeal of Danny’s songs could be very diverse by the range radio DJs who have chosen to champion Laish – including Steve Lamacq, Marc Riley, Dermot O’Leary and Tom Robinson.
As the days draw near their darkest, it’s tempting to sit by an open fire and listen to wintry folk music with fiddles and traditional tunes. But if you want to inject a splash of summer (with a melancholy edge), then this release will get you singing, dancing and pondering. Sometimes a pendulum swing helps you see life from a fresh perspective.