Landscapes of Insanity

Good music can always capture and reflect on moments in history.

It can deal with politically important issues without resorting to polemic. It can anthologise without being trite.

Mr Moss has been poorly over the last few years. He has battled two major health scares. His indomitable spirit has fought through these catabatic barriers and he has emerged phoenix-like with his mojo renewed and wholly intact.

I may have said elsewhere that Four Candles is the best band that Mr Moss has ever had, this is confirmed and exemplified by “Spiritual Rapture” their new release. Said band is Phil Peak – drums, Jon Rowlinson – bass and Mark Taylor – guitar.

Back in January, at the Peer Hat in Manchester, the six songs on this album were premiered and worked through. At the time I was struck by the huge change in the band from the sturm and drang of “Killing the Image” to a more measured and, dare I say it, progressive approach to the music.

Mr Moss writes internally for his solo stuff with various collaborators. For band projects he writes externally, he observes and comments, he anthologises, he is political, and also is a biographer.

The music here is mature and considered.  Mr Moss provides a balanced attack, both bucolic and bellicose. There is saxophone from David Wilkinson to add fire and fervour to the sound, especially on “Chastity Belt” the 657th song in the canon about the dissolution of a band which we don’t talk about anymore. The rhythmic interplay on said song between Taylor, Rowlinson and Peak is breathtaking.

“Dipping A Toe In The Water” is a song about a Muddy Waters’ tour in the UK and yet another swipe at the conservative idiots who are so-called music fans. Taylor plays one of many earworm guitar figures that appear across the album. Rowlinson and Peak swing effortlessly as Taylor arpeggiates and Moss testifies. Hypnotic music with a strong message.

“C33” has appeared, lyrically at least, elsewhere as a Moss Bros concoction. Here it most resembles the music that was on “Killing The Image”. Live it is a monster, big riffs and call and response vocals. Moss emotes his huge regard for Oscar Wilde, the rhythm section attacks with motorik menace, and the guitar assaults your senses.

The absolute triumph is “You Can’t Be What You Pretend” – rhythmically starting somewhere in Psycho Killer territory, all backbeat and attitude, but carried forward with one of the best guitar figures I have heard in a long while. If you are not moving sinuously in a slinky fashion across the dance floor on hearing this then you have no soul. Moss berates and bellows moving from declamatory to intense, this is head-shakingly, hip-movingly hypnotic stuff. It’s damn sexy. It transcends to a huge climax relentlessly drawing you in.

What to do after that?  Well, the answer is to dive into a delta blues with abandonment. A mutant blues which takes no prisoners. Moss tears his vocal chords apart as the band charge headlong into the heart of darkness that is Basket Weaving.

And back to the start…..the opening track is “Strange Things Are Happening” a masterpiece of restraint musically, with delightful guitar, Wilkinson’s sax, and the interesting interjection of a guiro as a rhythmic colour. Moss evokes the current political climate perfectly, he reflects the fear and concern that government is driving us to strange places where retaining a grip on reality is increasingly impossible. It is the other triumph in the set and a brilliant way to start an album.

The album was recorded at 6dB in Salford by Simon “Ding” Archer who has captured the band at their best.

There are around five albums vying for the best of the year at this point – this is one of them.

“Spiritual Rapture” will be available from Friday 22nd at the German Shepherd bandcamp page in CD format and will be released digitally as three double-A side singles in June, July and August

You can see Four Candles at Manchester Meltdown on June 23rd at The Peer Hat, Manchester.

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