Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Album Review: Meursault - Something For The Weakened

Album Rating: A-
It's no secret that Scotland's folk scene is going through a glorious purple patch, but what's not so often mentioned is the level depth and diversity it's currently offering. As well as your obvious frontrunners such as Frightened Rabbit and Broken Records, there's a wealth of less renowned acts operating beneath the radar, not only making excellent music but also doing so on their own terms. Among the leaders of this pack are Edinburgh outfit Meursault, who have won praise from virtually every corner with their dynamic, digitally enhanced take on the genre. It's a formula that's already reaped handsome rewards on their pair of LPs to date, with common sense dictating that natural progression should be the order of the day come album number three. As it turns out, though, Meursault either don't have any common sense or they've bypassed it completely, with Something For The Weakened instead winding up doing the complete opposite.

Adopting a more traditional template, the collective have essentially dropped the entire electronic element of their sound, swapping programmed beats and lo-fi textures for the emotionally charged songwriting and vocal delivery of Neil Pennycook. It's not a regression, as the group are in fact embarking on new territory, but the fact that they've jettisoned their foremost distinguishing feature in the process does mean that it can seem like a step backwards.The result in practice, however, is a band that sounds more accomplished and more comfortable in its own skin, playing from the heart and embracing strengths on which past releases haven't fully capitalised.

Topping that list of assets is Pennycook, the undisputed leader whose presence dominates this record right from the off. Stripped of the need for innovation, his songwriting now holds a far more natural feel, with proceedings more often than not centered around his typically coarse Scottish drawl. Like many of his countrymen, his voice conveys a unique sense of longing passion; a canny tool given that the record's overall impression is one of blunt and beautiful misery. If there's one song which epitomises this transformation, it's "Lament For A Teenage Millionaire," a composition which first surfaced on debut album Pissing On Bonfires/Kissing With Tongues. Initially a vibrant, if slightly awkward collection of beeps and bloops, it's now now been simplified into a far more conventional ukulele-led piece, which nevertheless carries a true ethereal warmth - proof that invention can often be a hindrance as opposed to a compliment.

Remarkably, some of this record's original cuts are even better. "Settling," for instance, taps into the same despondent sentiments, with a tasteful dose of electric guitar adding an extra punch which aids it in resonating even deeper. At the other end of the coin is "Mamie," a gut wrenching piano ballad on which the singer stretches himself to the limit, delivering a vocal that's so raw and despondent that it's a wonder he picks himself up to battle through one last track. It's a truly breathtaking performance which any of his contemporaries would be proud of, and it's testament to Meursault's reverse development that the same can be said of Something For The Weakened as a whole. First impressions will inevitably attract the odd scornful reaction from long-term fans, but the quality and overall depth of this material is impossible to ignore, as is the potential for this fine band to improve even further.

Something For The Weakened is out now. You can stream the record in its entirety here.



1. Thumb
2. Flittin'
3. Lament For A Teenage Millionaire
4. Settling
5. Hole
6. Lightning Bolt
7. Dull Spark
8. Dearly Distracted
9. Mamie
10. Untitled

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