Here's an excitable review I wrote for a few regional papers about the best album I've heard in a good two years - The Jimmy Cake's awesome "Spectre and Crown" which is out on Pilatus Records on April 11th.
Get a slice of this – Third time lucky for The Jimmy Cake
If you only buy one album this year that has no lyrics, mixes classical music with the epic windswept post-rock and features some of the most beautifully structured music recorded in Ireland in decades, then make sure it’s “Spectre and Crown”, the long-awaited third album from the 18-legged groove machine that is Dublin instrumental collective The Jimmy Cake.
It is the best album yet from the instrumental leviathan, and it’s worth every single one of the five difficult years it took them to create it. The album is a moving, sweepingly beautiful, orchestral epic with nine life-enhancing tracks of such diversity and scope that it’s hard to fathom that just nine people made it. Listening to its most epic moments, you can picture over a hundred people crammed into a studio, perhaps with an orchestra in one corner, a string quartet or four in the other corner, a drummer, bassist and guitarist in the other corner, and a classical concert pianist or ten in the other corner.
“Spectre and Crown” opens with “Red Tony”, the deceptively calm first two minutes of which are just soothing piano and the threat of atmospherics. It then transforms into a lush, guitar and string piece, sliding in with such consummate ease that you’d swear it was made of feathers. As openings go, it’s as near to the opening of Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon” as you’re ever going to get without a singer inviting you to “breathe in the air”. But you might as well, because as things just keep on getting better and better and better as the rest of the album opens out, you’ll drown in its lush aural embrace.
Alongside numerous classical music references from composers whose names I cannot spell, and operas I have never heard, there’s elements of the music and idealisms of bands such as Mogwai, The Cure, The Orb, Sophia, Can, The Who, Godspeed You Black Emperor, KLF and Explosions in the Sky scattered throughout this gorgeous disc; and hidden away you’ll find little elements such as a plucked banjo, an accordion, and more that gives the game away that this is actually an Irish band and not a state-funded musical experiment from the East.
The piano of Paul G. Smyth is the key to most of the tracks, especially “Jetta’s Place” which jaunts along to one of the most emotional crescendos The Jimmy Cake has ever put its name to. Their trademark brass section overload makes this one of, if not the best, tracks you’ll hear all year. Honestly.
As well as possessing the best song title in years, “The Arms That Came Out of the Wall” possesses a melancholic but surprisingly smooth juxtaposition of two bass guitars which recall a peaceful Alpine train journey up and through a mountain with The God Machine warming up in the next carriage. They guide it to the orchestra pit via a detour with a little self-contained acoustic rock band within a band and some synchronised slow hand-clapping. Please don’t allow that put you off though. When the accordions kicks in it all makes sense. Its seven minutes give the band barely enough time to arrive back to where they began, and when they do, you want them to start off on the journey again.
The album is all breathtaking, epic music, delivered with such belief and cohesion that it’s hard to believe that three of the members of the band are new guys, still being bedded in following the departure of a trio of founding members.
Still, the spirit of previous releases by the band - their gentle debut “Brains” and their schizophrenic and disappointing follow-up “Dublin Gone, Everybody Dead” - is there in all tracks, especially the five slow-burning minutes of the sweeping “Haunted Candle” which is extinguished by an orchestral build-up led by accordions. Elsewhere, “Collapsing Cloud Night...” is possibly the sweetest love song you’ll ever hear without lyrics, whilst “The Art of Wrecking” is one of the saddest pieces of rain-soaked string quartet music one will hear for quite some time. You could soundtrack 50 great movie deaths with it if you wanted to. The nine minutes of the rampaging“Hugs for Buddy” should evoke fonder memories, and no doubt will soundtrack years worth of artful nodding in the homes of anyone lucky enough to buy and fall in love with this beautiful album. It sounds like the conclusion to a concept album or rock opera The Who or Pink Floyd always wanted to make, but never could, as their roots were with rock and blues and not with the sweeping classic The Jimmy Cake were fed on. Instead they ended up producing flawed masterpieces such as “Tommy” and “Atom Heart Mother”. What sets The Jimmy Cake apart is that their roots are classical, and when they allow their multitude of other influences into the mix they end up making epic tracks like this.
Few bands have mastered how to melt the orchestral sweep of classical music with something that nearly resembles rock music, but The Jimmy Cake has, and with “Spectre and Crown” they have set a stunning template for other collectives, quartets and bands to follow. As it is, few records will reach the heights that this royally brilliant piece of work reaches. An instant and longterm classic.
Ten out of ten.