Monday, 10 October 2011

Joe Levi - The Friends & The Family - Album Review [10th October 2011]

True friendship, true family.

Having finally conceded that the down-stares at this party are truly the eyes of the abyss looking back, you fill your cup bitterly and head to the hope of the tower. Beyond the dead bodies piling, you reach a door at the top with the tiniest slither of gold shining through. You hear bubbling twisting discussions and laughter. Egos dancing atop the sound in turn before being pulled back in amongst the ample population of voices. Now - to risk entry to the unknown arena or return to the zombies below? You lose your sunglasses, remove your shirt and slide through the crack. Now Everything Is Flickering and you're with 'The Friends & The Family.'

With the instrumental fanfare, Joe Levi gently passes a goblet of home-brew around all equally and evenly. As we feel the warmth in our stomachs, we escape the apprehension of various destinations, and whatever our host seeks to perform presently we take in the moment. Youthful optimism is celebrated first with Carousel, and then supported by what feels like the melancholia of teenage voyeurism in She's Got Clouds (or Soft White Horses).  But enough of such passivity! as our protagonist finds the strength to travel paths unknown,  gripping the hand of his Bass Drum Baby, and showing strength in admitting vulnerability in 'the long wooded valley'. Although with the main content only lasts a precise twenty-four minutes, this album experience makes a mockery of how we measure time, being brought to the base of a huge oak and its knowledge by tracks six and seven, with aged reflection (don't let the lewd title mislead you!) in The Gold Mine (Knee Deep In You) and You Are All That I Wish I Had. Finally, before 'leaving right now'  Levi pulls all seated to their feet with Little Fires, as he nonchalantly leaves the room, flying out of the window, and we are left with the sense it is our turn to find our ways.

Phil Meredith is the master medium, transporting Joe's songs through wonderful production to our ears. Levi has been working hard writing songs for many years, with their spirits dancing just out of reach of a wider public by appearing naked at dinner parties. But Meredith is a master tailer, dressing these songs in simple and crisp suits, helping people to hear the content for what it is without prejudice. In particular, his work on the the acoustic guitar sounds throughout the record are delicious; with all their percussion attack, harp-like, and their harmonious tones sustaining enigmatically. This relationship between artist and producer is undoubtedly greater than the sum of their respective efforts in this project. Regardless of who the true inspiration for the song maybe, it feels that whilst Levi has been ringing out the cymbals, Meredith has certainly been the Bass Drum Baby.

Somewhere between Anton Newcombe's boast, "The Beatles were for sale, I give it way," and Richard Bach's "If you love something, give it away" is an approximation of Joe's generosity of a bonus folder of songs, doubling the number of tracks from the original album. In his liner notes, he excuses these additional tracks as "demos of songs for the future, and old bits and bobs [he] had floating around and needed to get off [his] chest." Although this prepares us for production values that are as demanding and as spontaneous as our singer's outlasting enthusiasm in the wee hours of various parties, it does not prepare us for the exciting versatility of the collection, showing, at the very least, the gestalt of the main feature is an act of care and precision to celebrate a specific facet of Levi's imagination. In this bonus material, the mind is to other thoughts.

With these tracks, he provides a dance out to open spaces, the two collections very much supporting the visual narrative of the two intriguing portraits given for the front and back of the album, courtesy of Althea Lyons and Katie Dervin, respectively. These 'demos' are joyous in the celebration of nature; observing seasons, wild life and the burdens of dead boys and deader felines.

Joe Levi has made a record that celebrates many stages of life in its peculiar curves. Such comic devices as irony and flawed narrators, as Joe himself may use to wonderful effect in his other artistic exploits, here as a musician, have been shelved for more timeless humours and complexities. It is a a truly wise debut record he has housed in the Butter Bridge Records cannon. Personally, I am left looking forward to marrying these songs with parts of my life I have not lived yet, as they seem to speak profoundly about the parts already gone by. Such a connection is true friendship and true family.

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