Curse of Lono – Severed
Submarine Cat Records – 7 April 2017
Felix Bechtolsheimer clearly enjoys adding a cultural reference to his work. Founder and frontman of roots revivalists Hey Negrita, he took that band’s name from the Rolling Stones’ Reggae/Latin-inspired song. In 2015, guitarist Felix joined forces with former Hey Negrita drummer Neil Findlay for a new project that turns from roots to rock, and to Hunter S. Thompson for a name – Curse of Lono. This month the band release their début album, Severed.
Back in September, Folk Radio UK premièred a video from Curse of Lono‘s Doghouse Session recording to mark the release of their first EP. The session, the EP itself, and Alex Walker‘s captivating video project that coincided with the release (Saturday Night: A Film Of Four Songs) provided such a tantalising introduction to the band that we’ve eagerly awaited the arrival of Severed. The wait is over, out now on Submarine Cat Records, Curse of Lono‘s debut album is built on strong song writing, with punchy, guitar-led melodies and lush vocal harmonies. It’s an album that doesn’t disappoint.
As strong acoustic guitar and rich layers of vocal open Severed with Five Miles High, it’s clear that Felix is keen to move on from Hey Negrita’s more down to earth feel. As a pulsing bass and keyboard combination move the song towards a softly crashing guitar and more powerful drum-fuelled phases, it becomes apparent that joining forces with lead guitarist Joe Hazell, bassist Charis Anderson and keyboard player Dani Ruiz Hernandez has taken Felix’s songs in a new direction. The first impression is that the compass points somewhere between The Byrds and Fleet Foxes, but this engaging opener also hints at a world of possibilities.
Severed is the first album Felix has worked on since Hey Negrita parted in 2009. Curse of Lono formed in 2015, but Felix has unearthed some song writing gems from his 14 year back catalogue to feed a sound that relishes a range of influences, from Paul Simon and Tom Waits to The Doors and Radiohead. The themes explored on Severed could almost chart the progress of Hey Negrtia’s three albums – through loveless duplicity, consuming jealousy and self-destroying addiction. Morbid, perhaps, at first glance, but one of the rewards of return visits to this album are the underlying threads of positivity. All I Got, for example, with its moribund keyboard, the sole accompaniment for a man resigned to failure, still finds a glimmer of hope.
Wish you would corner me and slap me with a smile
I’d breathe it in and swallow down my tears
The raw pain evidenced in He Takes My Place finds no such light. Its beauty, and beauty it certainly has, lies in the stark reality painted in the lyrics. The dour severity of All I Got and He Takes My Place is echoed by the declaimed lyrical opening of London Rain. More akin to a Matt Johnson (The The) dream sequence until the vivid jazz beats and keyboards echo The Doors.
And now I’ve traded in the daylight
For the ringing in my ear
But the love you throw right at me
Is not enough to keep me here
These tracks, despite their despondency, never sway the listener from what is a warm, enveloping musical experience. Severed is full of rich vocals and guitar, and it’s those layers of vocal that lift the self-deprecating lyrics towards something stronger. A spiritual beat emerges from the smooth opening of Send for the Whisky, almost working towards a sense of abandon. That same tacit acceptance is re-visited in Welcome Home, although the light acoustic guitar moving towards a darker, heavier electric suggests that home might be the best place.
Each Time You Hurt seems closer to the sound of Hey Negrita than any other track, the rich, harmonic vocal, acoustic guitar and gently rolling bass providing that same vein of inspired confidence despite dark days. The loose guitar of Just My Head reminds us that Curse of Lono has grown from the blues, despite the success of producer Oli Bayston (BoxedIn) in separating the band from its pre-2009 sibling, the family ties are still in evidence.
In an album that, quite simply, doesn’t have a single weak song; the drum beat, hand claps and choppy reverb of Pick Up the Pieces present a positive, poppy number that made it a shoe-in for the album’s first single. Shane Davey‘s fine 16mm film promo enhances the impression that Curse of Lono deserve, and with increased exposure are sure to find, a much wider audience.
Don’t Look Down closes the album with a link back to its harmonic opening in a gentle surrender to an inevitable break-up. It’s a perfect example of what provides Severed with much of its appeal – lyrics with a sharp edge that can only be derived from personal experience; but presented by a strongly cohesive unit that brings each song, and the album as a whole, forward as a perfectly balanced work.
Curse of Lono take their dark, big city themes and add just the required amount of light. If the stark subject matter of the songs contain a message, it’s probably to be aware of your past, constantly aware, but don’t let it rule you. That message though, despite its validity, is eclipsed by a rich, inviting, beautifully balanced sound that criss-crosses the Atlantic, references a range of influences, but remains steadfast in its individuality. Severed is a strong début. It plays like an album from a band who have been developing their performance for many years; it’s an album Curse of Lono can be immensely proud of.
Curse of Lono Tour Dates
15 Apr – Sheffield, Greystones
20 Apr – London, Water Rats (Album Launch)
21 Apr – Exeter, The Phoenix (with Wildwood Kin)
03 Jun – London, Camden Rocks Festival
04 Jun – Cheltenham, Wychwood Festival
Photo Credit: Hana Knizova