Mute 4.0: Josh T. Pearson – Last Of The Country Gentlemen (Mute Artists album, 2011)

joshtpearson_lastofthecountrygentlemen2

As part of Mute‘s fortieth ‘anti-versary’, the label is making available very special limited edition vinyl versions of selected releases from their four decades of releasing and curating incredible music. To celebrate this element of Mute 4.0, we’re re-posting reviews of those special albums from the depths of the Documentary Evidence archives. Full details on the releases can be found here.

Last Of The Country Gentlemen, Josh T. Pearson‘s much-anticipated début album, garnered all manner of positive reviews in the run up to its release. In a climate where everyone seemed to be focussed on the retro punk stylings of The Vaccines, it was pleasing to see that an album consisting mostly of heart-wrenching confessionals delivered by a singer over simple accompaniment (mostly guitar, some strings) could get so much positive praise. The album was preceded by a piano version of the track ‘Country Dumb’, the album version resplendent with guitars and violin instead of piano, a towering yet fragile ballad that stirs something deep within.

On a personal level, Last Of The Country Gentlemen‘s gentle, emotional grace is deeply affecting. I listened to this over a weekend where we had sold or given away some clothes, toys and other ephemera belonging to our two girls, in itself a moving experience, and Pearson’s songs of transition seemed to heighten the fragile mood I was in over the weekend.

Pearson’s voice is a beautiful thing to listen to. Occasionally whispered, occasionally rising with clarion quality, the consistent aspect is that he makes every single syllable, every word and every line count; everything that comes from his mouth is freighted with depth and sentiment. Though his Texan twang is a million miles away from Antony Heggarty’s vocal gymnastics, the two singers share the same talent for soaking their most basic utterances in something indefinable which can leave you feeling affirmed, tearful and empty after listening to their music; you will need to invest almost everything you have into listening to these songs, and you will feel utterly spent at the conclusion. One song is hard enough; eight songs is nigh on torturous.

Last Of The Country Gentlemen was, according to The Times review, written during a period of heartbreak, and there is a definite theme of separation running through the eight songs here (three of which are well over ten minutes in length). However, with the exception of the bitter (yet controlled) statement of intent ‘Woman, When I’ve Raised Hell’, soaked in strings arranged by Dirty Three and Bad Seeds / Grinderman violinist Warren Ellis that amplify the mood palpably, the theme does not appear to be one of regret at his loss; more, there is a resigned air of Pearson almost forcing a separation, for the benefit of his lover. The twelve minute ‘Sweeheart I Ain’t Your Christ’ is a case in point – throughout this song, Pearson is effectively advising his lover that she’d be better off without him. That sense of setting someone free, for their benefit, especially if they don’t realise it, is just about the hardest damn thing to do, a selflessness that is gut-wrenchingly moving.

That theme is somewhat at odds with the sleeve, which appears to show Pearson trying to prevent his lover – whose face is blank, emotionless, detached – from leaving. He is grasping her legs, eyes closed, as if he would rather be dragged across the gravel rather than let her go, but it fits with the heartbreak and torment evident in the songs here. The track ‘Honeymoon’s Great! Wish You Were Her’, is a song about marrying someone but still being in love with someone else; this is the closest Pearson gets to being frustrated with his lot (albeit, it seems, of his own doing), and there is a section where the strings come up in great big swells that make you sympathetic toward his conflict, not angry at his infidelity. ‘Sorry With A Song’ is Pearson’s apology, of sorts.

Something about these songs encourage you to believe that Pearson is telling you his story here; like a début novel, the roman a clef tends to be written mostly from personal experience and emotions, containing thinly-disguised autobiographical aspirations more than pure fiction. These songs seem so honest, so genuine, that you want to believe that this is Pearson’s own story being articulated across these eight songs in spite of the desperation, frustration and sorrow contained here. We would be faintly disappointed if this songwriting was found to be fictional.

Last Of The Country Gentlemen was recorded in Berlin, and mixed in London by Gareth Jones (although a couple of tracks were mixed by David ‘Saxon’ Greenep). There is a sense of hands-off production on these tracks, a sense of respect for the songs themselves and the outpourings contained within them. Presenting the songs ‘just so’ is a brave, yet powerful thing to do; the album thus has a stark innocence that leaves me well and truly floored whenever I listen to it.

Special edition: Rough Trade Christmas Bonus

Mute released Last Of The Country Gentlemen again in November 2011 with a second disc of Josh T. Pearson performing a selection of Christmas songs, the occasion being Rough Trade Shops placing his album at the top of their 2011 album chart. The expanded version was only available from Rough Trade. To celebrate the release of Pearson’s Rough Trade Christmas Bonus, Rough Trade East printed up a special rubber curtain containing the picture from the Christmas EP’s sleeve to cover their front entrance.

The thing with Christmas carols is that they can often have an air of sadness about them; few have an obvious joyousness, though all have an inherent beauty. As such, Josh T. Pearson is well-suited to delivering the five songs he intimately performs here. Last Of The Country Gentlemen had few naturally uplifting moments, though – as evidenced by the live LP (again, only released through Rough Trade Shops) The King Is Dead – Pearson himself is actually pretty light-hearted and self-deprecating. Here we find him struggling while trying to pluck the notes to a lovely rendition of ‘Silent Night’, unaware that his musings are being recorded, cocking up the introduction to ‘Angels We Have Heard On High’ and delivering a faultless accapella rendition of ‘Away In A Manger’, which masterfully rescues the carol from thousands of painful school nativities. Likewise, his bluesy rendition of ‘O Little Town Of Bethlehem’ moves the song away from the tuneless butchering of this carol by assembled toddlers and into masterful, graceful territory. In defiance of his image as a humourless misanthrope, he even adds a wee coda of ‘Jingle Bells’ at the very end.

‘O Holy Night’ is testament to how Pearson can take a song that’s not his own and add his own distinctive style to create something utterly original. Here his reading sits somewhere between the melancholy grandeur of Last Of The Country Gentlemen and the more introspective aspects of the Rufus Wainwright back catalogue. In a burst of seasonal goodwill, an alternative version of of ‘O Holy Night’ was made available for free from Pearson’s own website.

For Mute 4.0, Last Of The Country Gentlemen is being reissued as a gold double LP edition.

First posted 2011; re-edited 2015; re-posted 2018

MUTE4.0_V3

(c) 2018 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence

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Josh T. Pearson – Last Of The Country Gentlemen (Mute Artists album, 2011)

album // Last Of The Country Gentlemen
  
mute artists | lp+cd/cd/dl stumm326 | 14/03/2011
rough trade shops edition xcdstumm326 released 21/11/2011

Last Of The Country Gentlemen, Josh T. Pearson‘s much-anticipated début album, garnered all manner of positive reviews in the run up to its release. In a climate where everyone seemed to be focussed on the retro punk stylings of The Vaccines, it was pleasing to see that an album consisting mostly of heart-wrenching confessionals delivered by a singer over simple accompaniment (mostly guitar, some strings) could get so much positive praise. The album was preceded by a piano version of the track ‘Country Dumb’, the album version resplendent with guitars and violin instead of piano, a towering yet fragile ballad that stirs something deep within.

On a personal level, Last Of The Country Gentlemen‘s gentle, emotional grace is deeply affecting. I listened to this over a weekend where we had sold or given away some clothes, toys and other ephemera belonging to our two girls, in itself a moving experience, and Pearson’s songs of transition seemed to heighten the fragile mood I was in over the weekend.

Pearson’s voice is a beautiful thing to listen to. Occasionally whispered, occasionally rising with clarion quality, the consistent aspect is that he makes every single syllable, every word and every line count; everything that comes from his mouth is freighted with depth and sentiment. Though his Texan twang is a million miles away from Antony Heggarty’s vocal gymnastics, the two singers share the same talent for soaking their most basic utterances in something indefinable which can leave you feeling affirmed, tearful and empty after listening to their music; you will need to invest almost everything you have into listening to these songs, and you will feel utterly spent at the conclusion. One song is hard enough; eight songs is nigh on torturous.

Last Of The Country Gentlemen was, according to The Times review, written during a period of heartbreak, and there is a definite theme of separation running through the eight songs here (three of which are well over ten minutes in length). However, with the exception of the bitter (yet controlled) statement of intent ‘Woman, When I’ve Raised Hell’, soaked in strings arranged by Dirty Three and Bad Seeds / Grinderman violinist Warren Ellis that amplify the mood palpably, the theme does not appear to be one of regret at his loss; more, there is a resigned air of Pearson almost forcing a separation, for the benefit of his lover. The twelve minute ‘Sweeheart I Ain’t Your Christ’ is a case in point – throughout this song, Pearson is effectively advising his lover that she’d be better off without him. That sense of setting someone free, for their benefit, especially if they don’t realise it, is just about the hardest damn thing to do, a selflessness that is gut-wrenchingly moving.

That theme is somewhat at odds with the sleeve, which appears to show Pearson trying to prevent his lover – whose face is blank, emotionless, detached – from leaving. He is grasping her legs, eyes closed, as if he would rather be dragged across the gravel rather than let her go, but it fits with the heartbreak and torment evident in the songs here. The track ‘Honeymoon’s Great! Wish You Were Her’, is a song about marrying someone but still being in love with someone else; this is the closest Pearson gets to being frustrated with his lot (albeit, it seems, of his own doing), and there is a section where the strings come up in great big swells that make you sympathetic toward his conflict, not angry at his infidelity. ‘Sorry With A Song’ is Pearson’s apology, of sorts.

Something about these songs encourage you to believe that Pearson is telling you his story here; like a début novel, the roman a clef tends to be written mostly from personal experience and emotions, containing thinly-disguised autobiographical aspirations more than pure fiction. These songs seem so honest, so genuine, that you want to believe that this is Pearson’s own story being articulated across these eight songs in spite of the desperation, frustration and sorrow contained here. We would be faintly disappointed if this songwriting was found to be fictional.

Last Of The Country Gentlemen was recorded in Berlin, and mixed in London by Gareth Jones (although a couple of tracks were mixed by David ‘Saxon’ Greenep). There is a sense of hands-off production on these tracks, a sense of respect for the songs themselves and the outpourings contained within them. Presenting the songs ‘just so’ is a brave, yet powerful thing to do; the album thus has a stark innocence that leaves me well and truly floored whenever I listen to it.

Special edition: Rough Trade Christmas Bonus
  
mute artists | xcd stumm326 | 21/11/2011

Mute released Last Of The Country Gentlemen again in November 2011 with a second disc of Josh T. Pearson performing a selection of Christmas songs, the occasion being Rough Trade Shops placing his album at the top of their 2011 album chart. The expanded version was only available from Rough Trade. To celebrate the release of Pearson’s Rough Trade Christmas Bonus, Rough Trade East printed up a special rubber curtain containing the picture from the Christmas EP’s sleeve to cover their front entrance.

The thing with Christmas carols is that they can often have an air of sadness about them; few have an obvious joyousness, though all have an inherent beauty. As such, Josh T. Pearson is well-suited to delivering the five songs he intimately performs here. Last Of The Country Gentlemen had few naturally uplifting moments, though – as evidenced by the live LP (again, only released through Rough Trade Shops) The King Is Dead – Pearson himself is actually pretty light-hearted and self-deprecating. Here we find him struggling while trying to pluck the notes to a lovely rendition of ‘Silent Night’, unaware that his musings are being recorded, cocking up the introduction to ‘Angels We Have Heard On High’ and delivering a faultless accapella rendition of ‘Away In A Manger’, which masterfully rescues the carol from thousands of painful school nativities. Likewise, his bluesy rendition of ‘O Little Town Of Bethlehem’ moves the song away from the tuneless butchering of this carol by assembled toddlers and into masterful, graceful territory. In defiance of his image as a humourless misanthrope, he even adds a wee coda of ‘Jingle Bells’ at the very end.

‘O Holy Night’ is testament to how Pearson can take a song that’s not his own and add his own distinctive style to create something utterly original. Here his reading sits somewhere between the melancholy grandeur of Last Of The Country Gentlemen and the more introspective aspects of the Rufus Wainwright back catalogue. In a burst of seasonal goodwill, an alternative version of of ‘O Holy Night’ was made available for free from Pearson’s own website.

lp+cd/cd/i:
1. Thou Art Loosed
2. Sweetheart I Ain’t Your Christ
3. Woman, When I’ve Raised Hell
4. Honeymoon’s Great! Wish You Were Her
5. Sorry With A Song
6. Country Dumb
7. Last Of The Country Gentlemen (lp/i bonus track)
8. Drive Her Out

xcd:
1. Silent Night
2. Angels We Have Heard On High
3. Away In A Manger
4. O Holy Night
5. O Little Town Of Bethlehem

Note: this CD was packaged with the CD copy of the album as a Rough Trade Shops exclusive

First posted 2011; re-edited 2015

(c) 2015 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence

A.C. Marias – One Of Our Girls (Mute Records album, 1989)

A.C. Marias 'One Of Our Girls' LP artwork
mute records | lp/cd/c stumm68 | 29/08/1989

A.C. Marias was the alter ego of Angela Conway, long-time Wire collaborator, artist and now video director. Although her only album for Mute, Conway previously released records on Bruce Gilbert and (Edvard) Graham Lewis‘ sadly defunct Dome imprint. This 1989 album was recorded at the ubiquitous Blackwing Studios, the location of many great Mute recording sessions, with a veritable supergroup of Mute producers – John Fryer, Paul Kendall, Gareth Jones and Bruce Gilbert.

The album is characterised by a number of distinctive elements – Conway’s echoing, haunting and ethereal vocals, Gilbert’s deft yet subtle textural guitar, and liberal helpings of electronic accompaniment. It’s one of my favourite Mute albums ever, certainly a collection of songs that I return to time after time. In truth, it is also an extremely different proposition than one would initially expect from a Gilbert collaboration, as this is often a very different proposition to the noise-scapes that Bruce has perfected on his solo releases.

The album kicks off with very atmospheric track, the quirky ‘Trilby’s Couch’, a jazz-referencing melange of walking bass, highly spare percussion and flute / pipe sounds framed by occasional, fleeting flurries of analogue-esque synths. All the while, Conway delivers a mysterious lyric that seems to suggest bizarre hypnosis and psychiatric discussions in a Freudian analysis session. The lyrics are strewn with word pictures, bizarre events and nonsensical actions. ‘Just Talk’ is an outstanding minimalist sonic adventure, with repeated, processed stereo-spanning guitars providing the rythmic undertow over which Conway delivers a floating vocal which manages to sound more textural than the guitar layers. A two-note guitar melody and an echoing, icy percussion sound offer a counterpoint, with held synth chords urging this song to an eerie close.

The mystery quota continues on ‘There’s A Scent Of Rain In The Air’, which is built around a slow rhythm constructed of nothing more than either a deeply-processed cymbal or piston; a deep bass drone dominates the low end while Conway’s reedy voice phases in and out in the high end, and Gilbert provides a seasick, scratchy guitar scribble with what sounds like meditative ease. What sounds like a distorted handclap loop comes in at around the halfway mark, just as Conway’s voice begins to loop and echo upon itself. ‘Our Dust’ predates some of the beat-driven near-‘pop’ on Aphex Twin’s Selected Ambient Works, evoking the same reverb-laden bass and beat, and similar icy cool melodies. Conway’s vocal is offhand, casual, the repeated vocal of ‘I don’t care’ sounding like she couldn’t care less. The taped sound of a noisy restaurant or bar concludes the song. The sub-two minute ‘So Soon’ is driven by a quiet, tapped beat and swathes of analogue filtered guitar layers, and leads straight into the strident pop of ‘Give Me’. I first heard the track on the International compilation (and even sampled a section of Conway’s deeply processed vocal from the fading seconds of the song for one my own compositions). It’s got a heavy On-U esque beat (presumably Fryer’s creation) and an edgy Gilbert guitar loop, but it’s the randomised, processed vocal snatches – wrapped around Conway’s pretty lyric – that are the most captivating, and the stereo swirls require this to be listened to on ‘phones.

‘To Sleep’ is just a beautiful song, a carefully-crafted piece of moving electronica and euphoric guitar drifts which is mesmerising; it’s a suitably pastoral accompaniment to Conway’s poetry, which comes and goes like waves onto the shore. Entrancing and enchanting – you get the idea. ‘Looks Like’ is delivered in warped waltz time and, with its simple melodic synth pad swells could be a Vince Clarke composition were it not for the occasional intrusion of rippling guitar sounds. ‘Sometime’ is dark and edgy, a throbbing bass pulse and a ratchety sound culled straight from Wire’s ‘Advantage In Height’ offset by a pleasant strummed melody and a divine layered chorus of Conway’s voice(s). ‘One Of Our Girls Has Gone Missing’, released as a single, concludes the cassette and vinyl editions, while the CD includes the warped cover of Canned Heat’s ‘Time Was’, also released as a single.

Track listing:

lp/cd/c:
A1. / 1. Trilby’s Couch
A2. / 2. Just Talk
A3. / 3. There’s A Scent Of Rain In The Air
A4. / 4. Our Dust
A5. / 5. So Soon
B1. / 6. Give Me
B2. / 7. To Sleep
B3.  / 8. Looks Like
B4. / 9. Sometime
B5. / 10. One Of Our Girls Has Gone Missing
11. Time Was

First published 2004; edited 2014

(c) 2004 – 2014 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence