Born as Alexander Gordon de Menthon on Christmas Eve ’81, Alexander was fortunate enough to be left a Rembrandt lithograph by his French grandfather, the Count de Menthon. When the time came he sold his lithograph and used the proceeds to fund this, his debut album, Morning Brings a Flood, and it sounds like money well spent.
Opening with a harmonium and string drone that any of the Constellation Records stable would be proud of, “Prague Song” kicks things off with an elglaic eulogy to the need to get lost and, as the track progresses, it moves from haunting chimes to intense string drones and a pentatonic blues freak out. Wolfe’s morning after vocal recalls, in equal measure, Guy Garvey, Nick Drake and Mr Pearce, moving effortlessly between breathy whisper, soaring call and fractured falsetto. “Lazy Bones” picks up the pace with a mouth organ line and country twang that calls to mind Neil Young, Harvest period. “Till Your Ship Comes” In carries on the Nick Drake/Guy Garvey vibe, with a classic Brit folk finger picking guitar part and sweeping string backing.
New single is “Song For The Dead”, which starts off with some really odd sounding electronic textures and studio ambience, before kicking into a rocking swing beat groove. My only criticism would be that I’d like it if there was more time given to the ambient interludes and atmospherics, just a bit more space to breath between the songs proper would be have been great. However the song writing and melodies are so strong it’s still a perfectly engaging work.
“Teabags In Ashtrays” is a waltzing carousel of a tune and recalls “Firebird” from Guillemots’ Fyfe Dangerfield’s recent solo offering Fly Yellow Moon. Swaying brass, descending chromatic piano runs and Wolfe’s Garvey-esque sigh make for an album highlight. A lot of the lyrical subject matter seems to be based on observations of beans on toast British mediocrity that at the same time celebrates the magic and mystery in the seemingly mundane. Some of Wolfe’s couplets are worthy of comparison to vintage Cocker-isms. “An uncomfortable sun tan is all you deserve, all you get are straight edges when all you need is a curve” is a choice line from “Teabags In Ashtrays”.
There’s great light and shade to the record. “Empty Morning”, a gorgeous, lilting piano ballad with top notch brass band accompaniment moves seamlessly into the post-‘Ladies and Gentleman, We Are Floating In Space’ snarling blues freak out of “Movement”. “True Love Lies” is a Radiohead-esque ballad, “true love lies, behind angel eyes”, a tender little tune that is a necessary calm after the storm of “Movement”.
“This Submarine”, with its creepy tape effects and atmospherics, brings the listener to Bright Eyes territory. Certainly it evokes a similar atmosphere to Oberst’s finer moments from the Fevers and Mirrors and Lifted records. “Cos something’s moving, can’t see the surface anymore” is a line that sets the claustrophobic sentiment of the song and the melodic interplay again references Bends era Radiohead. Pretty heavy weight comparisons but, to be fair, the exemplary musicianship and high quality yet not overly polished production marks this album out as a cut above many of the mediocre folk rock records being churned out right now.
The album closes with a 7 minute beauty of a track. “Stuck Under September”, a piece dedicated to a broken love affair between the sun and the moon, is so close to schmaltz that it’s a minor miracle that it somehow manages to side step naff gift card poeticism and be a truly heart touching finale… “She’s cast back into shadow, she’s an old crescent moon and she’s bitten by everything, taken too soon.”
Plaintive piano chords are shrouded in mournful strings and the simple picked guitar chords bring the album to its’ sweet, sad conclusion.
Overall a quiet victory of a record, hardly reinventing the wheel, but there’s more than enough atmosphere, humour and hang dog charm to make this an album well worth investigating.