GAZ COOMBES Turn the Car Around (Virgin Music International)
New ways of recording means that a record can be made at home. Actually it can be made on your phone while traveling on the bus and uploaded to Bandcamp. The availability of any type of sound means that it doesn't have to relate to a known instrument. Is it better to stitch all your sounds together or format the record as if it was a band playing?
As someone who began as a digital artist I think having uninhibited options is bewildering. Audio software is over sanitizing everything. You really need to be deliberate about your choices and why you made them. If you're not, what you make can feel like it was made by the software.
Gaz Coombe's new record Turn the Car Around seems to be having it both ways. It's a dense record that sounds at first listen like familiar indie pop rock that uses both instruments and more abstract sounds. He was the front man of Supergrass: the great BritPop troupe. He's made a number of interesting solo albums but this one is his best. Sounding like it was made by a band, it coheres with his history and determines how he will play it live. But I think he's largely made this record on his own and in his own studio.The cover is utterly without artifice, it's a straightforward photo of Gaz sitting in the studio, holding a guitar.
The chorus of "Overnight Trains," the first track, rises up from a somber verse with the shimmer of a Wally Stott arrangement for '60s Scott Walker. Orchestra, bass, anything, can hint across the decades so that you find yourself reading influences in a line as they occur and deeper into the mix along the Z axis.
"Don't Say It's Over" is a plaintive ballad with a solid groove that's all mood and colour. "Feel Loop (Lizard Dream)" has a narrow melodic scope but the arrangement is all atmosphere. It leads to a descending chorus where all the "Gazs" are playing together in a basement.
The tambourine (or at least that's what I think it is) of "Long Live the Strange" has an eerie lack of commitment. Gaz playing Gaz has a refreshing "just enough" quality. There isn't that familiar cloying need to have everything be perfect.
"Not the Only Things" is a gloriously singable song that is so layered that you feel as if you're trying to follow bouncing lights in a dark wood.
"I know you're waiting for the perfect scene
Untie your wings and turn them over
Cos they're not the only things
It's not the only call"
We are being encouraged to take off too just as in a perfectly languid, blissful way, this song does.
More than the individual tracks the whole album has a coherent character that's hard to pin down. In a time when they are so quickly unmoored from each other for playlists, this is a record that asks to be heard in order.
"Turn the Car Around" is more perfect Pop with encouraging lyrics. Just when you think you can't move you're raised just a little higher.
"This Song" reinforces the template of the rock solid beat under a minor ballad. Beyond that I can hear filmic embellishments. Morriccone-like dulcimer thrums and distant piano figures. Gaz sculpts his lyrics, carving the percussion of consonants and the stretch and closure of vowels.
"A shot like a bullet then she'll decide
But I feel the needle when I see her cry"
"Sonny the Strong" is like plainchant leaving him the space to build layers of sound around it. "Dance On" is yet another great song. It sums up the feel of the record. A little blue sky overcast with a kind of yearning quality that at times rises up above the cloud cover into pure bright air.
Gaz is deliberate. He's saying it is time to turn the car around. Away from auto-tuned Crap Hop and mass produced Pop. Gaz shows us that the way forward lies in the personal. Who you are, where you've been and what you want. In the diary, the book of notes and the Watercolour sketchbook.
Gaz Coombes is currently on Tour