Ahead of his gig at Brighton’s Green Door Store on Wednesday 19th November 2014, I take a look at Paul Thomas Saunders’ debut album from earlier this year, called ‘Beautiful Desolation‘. With an abstract landscape for the artwork (designed by American artist Neil Krug, who has designed a number of great artworks for artists including Lana Del Ray, Bat For Lashes, Foals and First Aid Kit) and descriptive song titles like “Starless State of the Moonless Barrow“, the sleeve of the CD is giving very little away about its content, other than that its creator must have had a very clear idea in his head about what he wanted from the record aesthetically, and one would assume musically!
Combining an electronic soundscape and clear and confident vocal melodies with punchy lyrics attached,the album really shines and sparkles, like a glimmer in the eye of somebody who is in love.
Here is my track by track rundown of ‘Beautiful Desolation’:
1. Kawai Celeste
For those of you who aren’t necessarily in the know, I will quickly note that Kawai is a manufacturer of pianos and keyboards and a celeste is a frozen pizza manufacturer, amongst other things. Now that is out of the way, the song starts with a pulsing synth which sounds like it could equally belong in a Vangelis film score and a Snow Patrol pop song. The vocals have a floating quality often associated with Sigur Rós, although this time sung in English. The track is warming, reverby, relaxing and pretty out of this world. I have a feeling it’s going to be quite a journey listening to this album!
2. Good Women
A poignant song looking at “good women” and the terrible men that they sometime end up choosing. It is a song about injustice, frustration and the way the world works. The melody, in both the vocals and the synth, is quite beautiful, and the lyrics are just great too, reminding me a little of Death Cab For Cutie’s precise descriptions in their songs:
Good women bed the charmless everyday
They lead the lowest to their rooms, with their eyes flawless and disarming
And he’ll swear he’ll be your doll this time
But those dreams you had, they’ll suffer, they’ll die
3. Appointment In Samarra
The track is about a woman heading off to Samarra, a city is Iraq, leaving behind her life after her husband was assumingly killed in the war. The track is based on an old fable about not being able to escape your own destiny. The melody is anthemic and moving, reminding me of Starsailor’s ‘Alcoholic’. My favourite line is “breadwinners won’t be baking any more“. Another really strong track keeping the momentum of the openers continuing on.
4. Waking & Evening Prayers For Rosemary-Mai
This track is about a man who is praying that his love returns home to him, rather than being taken to her father, who has passed away. The song is full of yearning, desire and old-fashioned romance and is quite moving. Melodically it sounds rather Fleet Fox-y, which is by no means a bad thing.
5. In High Heels Burn It Down
In High Heels Burn It Down is about the power that a woman can have over you. The video is very stylish and the song is pretty catchy, and as Paul describes it “the most immediate track on the album.” Check out the video below and see if you agree.
6. Wreckheads & The Female Form
This is more than just a song. It is more than a world. It is pretty much an entire universe in just over five and a half minutes. The sounds created are dense and comprehensive, from rich synthesisers to magical chimes. I think the Paul definitely could have a career in film scoring for sci-fi films, probably something that he would really enjoy from his fondness of space exploration and of making music!
7. A Lunar Veteran’s Guide To Re-Entry
“I can never remember the words to this song when we play it live. I have no idea why. This song is all about trying to capture the rushing feeling of a car speeding through a tunnel, I wanted you to hear the trails of artificial light over your head. That image for me was the inspiration behind the production. I think it sounds like a wall of fluid colourful noise.” (From an interview with Paul by Thelineofbestfit)
8. Starless State Of The Moonless Barrow
Another track with a clear space theme in the title and throughout the lyrics, as the whirling soundscape draws the listener in, like a black hole. Combining romantic imagery and the universe seems to be something that comes easily to Paul Thomas Saunders. “You’re the relentless star that keeps me holding on to yesterdays sunrise“. The interesting structures of his songs keep things fresh and unpredictable.
9. Santa Muerte’s Lightning & Flare
Santa Muerte is a figure associated with death, literally translating to ‘Our Lady of the Holy death’, and is the guardian who watches over the departed. The track is just shy of eight minutes long and is a winding journey with plenty of sights along the way, including plenty of surprising dips as well as swells. Listening to this track is something akin to listening to a piece of orchestral music; rewarding but requiring the right mood and the attention it deserves to be appreciated.
10. On Into The Night
Closing the album, On Into The Night is a swirling finale showcasing several of the production techniques, textures and sounds of the album in a whistle-stop tour fashion, allowing the listener to see Paul’s universe fade away until it is picked up again another day.