Album: OUR BROTHER THE NATIVE – Sacred Psalms (Fat Cat FATSP19 2009)

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Our Brother the Native are now a duo with the departure of John Michael Foss. The remaining members, Chaz Knapp and Joshua Bertram can’t be accused of lacking ambition. Sacred Psalms has gamelan percussion, scratchy no-wave guitar, freeform sax, samples galore, glacial piano, accordion, banjo and all manner of other stuff chucked into the mix. When it works, it works quite brilliantly. When it doesn’t it sounds like a class of hyperactive three year olds let loose in the school instrument cupboard.

The vocals are a real problem. I’m not sure which of the two has the lachrymose semi-falsetto, but it’s really irritating. The other one mumbles alongside just as tunelessly, but less audibly. When they attempt harmonies, the kindest thing I can say is that they are ragged. The gamelan percussion is shoe-horned into places where it clearly doesn’t belong, although it’s effective in places.

On the plus side, there are some outstanding moments. The piano melody on “Someday” is one. The pounding toms, scratchy guitar and Arabic song sample pf “Child Banter” is another – a song where the anarchic, tune-free vocals actually fit the general post-punk clatter around them. The lonesome piano, Indian (?) singing sample and accordion drone of “Endless Winter” is a terrific combination. Even the vocals don’t intrude too much. Best of all is “Dusk”, the first four minutes of which are vocal free. The instrumentation is moody and atmospheric, and in the background there’s a recording of a posh female psychoanalyst or psychiatrist (I actually thought it was poet Stevie Smith at first) talking about her methods. “I’m going to start with the darkness”, she begins, and the track progresses with quite disturbing atmospherics.

Sacred Psalms is a frustrating record. I really want to like it much more than I do, simply because of the ambition and risk-taking involved. The band are attempting to find new, original paths to take their music, and that’s laudable. Their potential is beyond doubt. Where things fall into place, that potential is fulfilled. There are too many passages that just feel aimless, like they don’t really know how to fit things together. And the vocals are at best amateurish, at worst unlistenable. No one wants airbrushed perfection – passion always trumps ability in my book. But the shambolic nature of the singing seems like an affectation to me.

Tracks
1 Well Bred 4:00
2 Manes 3:58
3 Someday 4:07
4 All Grown 3:25
5 Dusk 7:11
6 Child Banter 4:24
7 Awaken 4:21
8 Sores 4:01
9 Behold 6:08
10 Endless Winter 5:44

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