The following is a full reprint of a review written recently for Drowned In Sound, where it was sub-edited almost out of all recognition and had marks knocked off for fear of the site becoming too generous with points. It can be viewed in that state here.
Left With Pictures – Secretly EP (Organ Grinder)
I interviewed Left With Pictures some time ago for DiS, and was very struck by how bright they were. Answers needed no editing for ums or ahs, everything they said was meticulous in its delivery, eloquent and illustrative. Can you see a parallel flying at your face?
There are so many artists whose press releases nonchalantly fart out phrases such as ‘classically trained’ or ‘baroque pop’ or, maybe, ‘channelling the majesty of Haydn’s sturm und drang period’ or something equally flaccid. On almost every single occasion, these claims are included to impress the reviewer and the listener, to foist upon them unjustly the idea that this particular record is that little bit brainier than most, that because these guys know the difference between exposition and development that their complex, terribly rewarding music is just the bollocks. On almost every single occasion, this is terrifyingly wrong, tiresome and, frankly, quite insulting to the listener. Let us judge for ourselves how brainy they are, we don’t need to be told to listen out for the string arrangements. And you’ve use the word ‘crescendo’ incorrectly.
Left With Pictures are one of the very few examples of the tide turning right back on this rough maxim. A bendy hybrid of early classical chord shapes, very pure pop melodies and brilliant nuances, hilariously correct and satisfying in their deployment, they manage at all times to be terribly aware of how to fill the musical spaces. They can’t really be described as a rock act or a folk act or, really, a pop act – they’re just an ensemble. They use traditional instruments, but sensitively. The temptation when, y’know, doing one of those records where the singer stands at the front of patronised session musicians and conducts a song that really needs no conducting, is to just use ‘an orchestra’, ‘a string quartet’, ‘some horns’. Left With Pictures use the right instruments to involve the listener with the right sound, to augment melodies, harmonies and lyrics, they don’t just throw everything at it. The arrangements here are expert.
‘We Clutched’ is a soft tale told in rubato, gently teased into acceleration and finally settling into a dainty dance, all the time carefully letting us hear clarinet harmonies, double bass throbs and a lovely lyric. The chord progression is simple, functional even, but it’s the variety of ways in which it is tweaked, the attention to detail in what we’re allowed to hear that makes the whole thing special. Similarly, ‘Boats’ is a tiny miracle of escalations and descents, of fine and pleasingly florid instrumental harmonies and another lovely lyric. I’d never really noticed before that Left With Pictures’ lyrics are very poetic, idiosyncratic and conversational without being ridiculous and, at times, quite moving. There’s nothing at all bad about a line like “I can’t push this boulder from out of the door, could you help me please?”
To bring this all refreshingly into context, it seems that Left With Pictures will have to be a pop band for the sake of practical things like record labels, venues to play live at and the internet, but they know what they are really. They are an ensemble, some musicians and writers and composers that painstakingly arrange their pieces. A more complex description than that would undermine their excellence.
Visit the band’s MySpace here.