Sunday, 13 June 2010
Learning to Draw - Review
A well deserved review for a great album - Scott McKeating gets out the wax crayons and learns to draw for foxy digitalis.
"Alistair Crosbie is a musician better known for soundscapes and guitar dronework, and rightly so as he does them well. So when he releases something that he claims as being ‘the most experimental album I've made’, the big money might well be on that album being something utterly bizarre and industrially heavy. Instead, Crosbie has recorded an album of his own songs, y’know guitar, chorus, melodies and lyrics stuff, which is not something you might readily expect for a dabbler in aural alien art. There are a few deviations throughout (acapella and post-punk kraut vibery), a few sparks of other sound but the central elements are always voice and guitar. No need to worry about how Crosbie handles the gulf between these disciplines though, “Learning To Draw” is an unqualified success and in no way does he get (or need) any kind of pass for being an artist more well known for being from a different musical world. While Crosbie’s songs here work within a certain structural formula, relatively brief songs (17 songs in 38 or so minutes) relying on limited pedal fx, acoustic guitar and keyboard, these are not the fumblings of a beginner.
The blurb that accompanies “Learning To Draw” mentions its origins in some snowbound and electricity-free sessions, but it feels like the record’s true origins are in something deeper and more internal. The whole record feels deeply personal, and its fairly bare bones style really supports its tone and manner. This is definitely heartfelt, lyrically downbeat and personal pop, its lack of a wide instrumental palette not affecting its melodies. Many of the songs seem to fit in with the idea of Crosbie talking/confessing/advising someone, in many places seemingly himself, and lyrically he's singing about personal confusion, loss and moments of occasional redemption. Things do turn a little chilling with some of the disturbed and empty imagery on “Husk”, but it’s followed immediately with “Summer” and the title track, the record’s most positive moments, so this fuller descent is short-lived. “Learning To Draw” is a principally melancholy pop record, but Crosbie’s shaft-of-light optimism comes over loud and clear. Take the gorgeous minute-long piece of positivity “Chinese Handcuffs, one of several slices of simple Glasgow/Creation guitar pop, which rivals any of the usual suspects with its “more you struggle the tighter it becomes” line. As an overall concept and album, this is a very brave, very personal record and reveals Crosbie as having a talent for both the abstract and the traditional. 10/10"