Last year Oliver Barrett unleashed his first Bleeding Heart Narrative opus, All That’s Missing We Never Had In The World, an exceptionally strong debut. Tongue Tangled Hair is the difficult second album, except it isn’t. It chews up and spits out that tired old cliche. It represents a massive leap on from its predecessor. Indeed, although I’m loathe to chuck around words like classic on an album I’ve only had less than a week, I feel compelled to do so in this case. It really is that good.
Although there are half or dozen or so guests featured on the album chipping in on various tracks, this is largely Barrett’s own work. Most of the pieces are constructed from self-sampled loops fitted together like parts of a jigsaw, and yet it’s testament to his skill at doing this that it’s usually only apparent if you listen really carefully. It’s a method employed by many other acts, but nobody I’ve heard does it this well. In particular, the way he harmonises with himself on the vocal tracks, introducing perfectly judged counterpoints is stunning. It’s not that he has a particularly great voice, but the way he layers it is designed for maximum emotional impact, and hits the target every time.
On some records it’s difficult to pick out highlights because the work functions best as a whole, and each part sounds better in context to those around it. It’s much rarer to have an album where it’s difficult to pick out highlights because virtually every damn track is a highlight. Tongue Tangled Hair is one of those. A track by track summary, then:
- At The End Of It All 4:52. An organ based prelude that builds up a drone through which melodies writhe and dissolve
- Henry Box Brown 6:48. Starts with stick percussion and folky harmonies built around vocal loops that sound a little like the Animal Collective. Ends with gradually building swathes of guitar that all but drown out the voices. A beutifully hypnotic piece.
- The Cartographer 4:32. After a slow sustained string intro, flowers into a beautiful piece of melancholic pop in the style of the criminally under-rated My Latest Novel at their very best.
- Earthing 2:16. Short piece based on loops of tinny piano, buried vocal, noise and eventually drums
- Tilted The Wall 3:24. A deliciously sad multi-layered cello piece.
- Colours Turn Colours 2:45. Almost conventionally pop sounding, and yet intricately pieced together.
- David Foster Wallace 4:44. More stunning vocal arrangements that have an almost Medieval troubador feel accompanied by cello and violin. Builds into a yearning vocal climax and a guitar finale that leaps out of the speakers, actually appearing to come into the room.
- The Vast Museum Of Insignificant Things 4:05. Loops of twelve string guitar, sustained strings and piano loaded with melancholy.
- All Your Words 6:07. Lilting strings, piano, drone. Very good, but probably the least distinctive track on the album.
- Fuchsia 5:32. Scratchy strings seemingly peeled off an old phonograph, rich cello and a plaintive vocal line gives this a deeply introspective feel.
- A Dialogue 5:57. Following on from a dreamy drone intro, develops into the sort of slightly eccentric rock song that Eno’s early vocal heavy albums were full of and then disintegrates into free jazz chaos
- 10 Tunbokilot 3:02. Vocal. Piano. Sad. Beautiful.
As ever with the excellent Tartaruga label, the packaging is exemplary and makes the whole artefact feel like a piece of art, which is no less than this brilliant record deserves. A limited number contain a free screen printed poster.