Soft-voiced songsmith Andy Oliveri is best known, at least up until now, as a stalwart of the Blossoming Cheltenham nu-folk scene. But for new release ‘Call Them Brothers’, backed by The Mountaineers, Oliveri has gone for a whole new kettle of fish. In an admirable act of pushing the envelope, Oliveri’s left his folksy pastures behind for grander, shoegaze-inflected soundscapes. It’s a bold move, and a mixed bag. Like a dancer slipping between treading-on-toes and ravishing tangos, where the former is worth tolerating for the later.
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‘Call Them Brothers’ features seven tracks, with only the single-worthy ‘Sky Candy Apple’ under the four-minute mark. Each track flows into the next, forming one single, fluid train-of-thought that pulls you along for the ride. The album is at its best when it embraces Oliveri’s delicate craftsmanship. The finest tracks are those where all the feedback screeches, guitar snarls and synth swoops pull together like a crack gang of workhorses. ‘I Take The River’ is the perfect example, chugging along for the first two minutes before dropping down to scattered, distant guitars, then blooming like a slow-motion explosion up to a cacophonous finale.
‘Ohio’ too, the albums springboard in the songwriting process, is a brilliantly realised post-rock ballad, and shows the group’s mastery of feedback with its shackled wave of noise and howl-at-the-moon guitar solo.
But the production isn’t always as flawless. The album is peppered with the occasional outbreak of cheesy computer bleeps or sound samples. Like The Mountaineers have a renegade sampling-machine android in their ranks who refuses to be silenced. Then otherwise well-written tracks like ‘Where Wild Flowers Grow Fondly’ suffer from overproduction, where any rawness in the guitars is leeched away and the cymbal-heavy drumbeats are jarringly tinny. It feels a little like the band lost themselves trying to imitate their influences too closely.
But perhaps the biggest misstep is that all too often the album squanders its greatest asset. Oliveri is a stellar lyricist, but on many of the tracks he is simply swamped in the mix. Oliveri shines when his vocals are given their platform, as on ‘Sky Candy Apple’ or ‘Through the Leaves’, but they’re relegated to the back row on too many of the others. Which is a pity, because a strong vocal hook is often what those tracks are missing.
All in all, ‘Call Them Brothers’ is a brave attempt by an artist to step outside their comfort zone, something that is far too rare a thing. Even if the results are neither pristine nor consistent, there are moments of genius here and that’s nothing to be sniffed at. ‘Ohio’ and ‘I Take The River’ are reason enough to call it a success, and the nuances shown in many other tracks hint at a wealth of potential. If Oliveri and The Mountaineers continue down this road, then ‘Call Them Brothers’ may herald the beginning of a bright and shining future.