Some artists seek to create grandiose sweeping statements about the world at large, propping their ideologies up on a bedrock of sanctimony and big riffs. Whilst it’s the U2s and Michael Jacksons of the music world who inevitably sell the most records, it’s arguably the artists who focus more on the interior world of emotion, catharsis and individuality that leave the biggest mark. Working under the moniker A Grave With No Name for the best part of a decade, Alexander Shields is one such artist. ‘Passover’ is an album of subtleties – musically, lyrically and in its execution and delivery. It’s an album that seems to find its creator coming to terms with loss, and the atmosphere is a haunted one of sparse musicality honed with a finesse that belies its impact.
There’s a nuanced, delicate approach within the album which befits its tone well; vocals are often little more than whispered – Sheilds’ fragile approach is reminiscent of surrealistic reveries on the early Sparklehorse records. Although the album’s delivery is soft (many of the tracks have a gentle sway to them) there’s a streak of melancholy running throughout which lends the record much of its offbeat charm. Arrangements are sensitive to the songs, with much of the music on the album arranged sparsely. The, by-turns, strummed and picked guitars and occasional string line allow room for the intuitive power of the songs to shine through – anything more and the album’s impact would been diluted, anything less and it would have felt undercooked.
It’s a well measured album, then, and one that rewards repeat listens. At 45 minutes, it’s not an especially long record but it is lengthy enough that a vivid atmosphere has plenty of time to be cast. The shimmering, textural ‘Blunt Knives’ is a standout and prime example. Every bit as impactful for its rich, sonorous atmospherics and ringing cymbals as it is for its lyrics and vocal delivery, the song illustrates Sheilds’ knack for memorable, subtle songs that seem at once both simplistic and complex. ‘Passover’s most immediate song is also one of its best: the phased electric guitar and hook-laden vocal line of ‘By The Water’s Edge’ is excellent. It’s well written, well crafted and reminiscent of the lo-fi songwriter boom of mid-late ’90s but, critically, it feels original.
‘Passover’ is a great album. It’s made with a depth and nuance which allows it to give as much back to the listener as they’re willing to put in – and the often DIY, lo-fi aesthetic gives the record bucket-loads of charm. ‘Passover’ is a treat for fans of the kind of quirky, off beat singer-songwriter records which indie hasn’t commonly seen in years.
‘Passover’ is out now on Forged Artifacts. The full track listing is as follows…
02. By The Water’s Edge
06. Blunt Knives
08. Pottery & Porcelain
09. When I Pass Through Here
12. Hot Blood