The Left Outsides – All That Remains
Cardinal Fuzz (UK) and Feeding Tube Records (USA) – 21 May 2018
The Walthamstow duo’s second full-length album The Shape Of Things To Come was reissued on vinyl back in February, now comes a brand new recording which is even more hard to categorise, not least because (once again) each and every track sounds different (literally). The chameleon-like demeanour of The Left Outsides’ music still retains the power to surprise and confound even those who “got” their earlier work, and the cryptic Byron Coley liner note for All That Remains gives no true indication of which way Alison Cotton and Mark Nicholas will turn or what kind of musical direction their lyrical perambulations will take as the album’s sequence unfolds in front of our orifices.
The duo’s previous album, 2017’s There Is A Place, took many of its aural cues from pastoral folk-psychedelia, English underground and Velvet Underground, and yet managed to provide a freshly stimulating listening experience with new vistas opening up on each playthrough. In that respect for sure, All That Remains coheres to its predecessor, although the basic soundscape is altogether more electrified than acoustic-pastoral, for all that the lyrics concern folk themes such as the seasonal round (The Unbroken Circle) or intimate relationship issues (All That Remains). The former (opening) track charges along in at a surprisingly brisk pounding tempo rather like a forgotten ’69/70-era grindy-jangle-with-viola-obbligato psych-rock classic, whereas a majority of the ensuing tracks adopt a decidedly more measured pulse and an almost woozily grandiose pace for their meditations.
Most impressive is the brooding industrial-strength (Cowboy Junkies-style) Naming Shadows Was Your Existence, likened by Coley in his liner note to “PJ Harvey covering an old Blondie tune as a dirge” (hmm…), where the high-register beam of Alison’s voice pierces the fog and sampled rainstorm like a lighthouse beacon against majestic crashing waves of layered guitars. The Ballad Of Elm Tree Hill is a dreamy viola-and-piano-steered country-folk number with a languid step and some delicate vocal harmonies. After the repose of which, a buzzing drone ushers in Mark with a gentle Floydian exhortation to come Down To The Waterside. A distinctly Undertones guitar riff then drives along Clothed In Ivy, Obscured By Dust, which sports an enticing, creamy Debbie Harry-like harmonised vocal line from Alison. It’s back to the haunted ballroom for the almost disembodied dreamlike waltzery of All Those I Danced With Are Gone; its sweetly claustrophobic aura continues into The Yellow Wallpaper, whose overall eeriness is accentuated by unsettling mellotron chordings before a short-lived multi-guitar climax. The album’s title song unfolds languidly before building impressively into a grinding, swirling organ-backed epic before its desolate, pared-down acoustic close. After which, the album’s final track Take Me Home Again drifts in on birdsong and harmonium drone yet its would-be-idyllic mood feels somehow faintly unjustified in the scheme of things.
Even after several plays, All That Remains remains an enigmatic record, whose resolutely beautiful meanderings are destined to haunt the listener, albeit in ways difficult to verbally assess in columns such as these; you simply have to get immersed in Mark and Alison’s visionary music – don’t leave yourself outside!
Pre-Order All That Remains via Bandcamp: https://theleftoutsides.bandcamp.com/album/all-that-remains
For USA sales please visit Feeding Tube Records