Album Review: The Grand Gestures’ star-studded toilet music cleans up
The Grand Gestures
It started off as an an experimental attempt to write music around bizarre loops, vintage synths, homegrown noises and live drums.
It has ended up as a fascinating eight-year project featuring a host of collaborations with some of the great and the good of Scottish music and some comedians thrown in – much of which was recorded in a Dundee bathroom.
One of the definite non-comedians is the man who put it all together, Jan Burnett, the front man of John Peel lo-fi post punk favourites Spare Snare of Dundee, who has lovingly concocted this enticing array of melancholic art pop.
It bounds from the enchantingly Portishead-like A Certain Compulsion featuring Emma Pollock of the Delgados to the Nine Inch Nails vs Depeche Mode closing epic The Start of The Landslide featuring journalist Tom Doyle, who shows he can nail a vocal.
This is effectively a ‘best of’ the project with the only new track being the spoken word The Sailor of Bari featuring new East Neuk resident and comedian Phill Jupitus which features an incident in an adult shop.
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There are perhaps too many spoken word interludes here, which only serve to interrupt the flow of what remains a 16-track cracker full of often haunting, always dark and inventive, and in the main downright irresistible pop tunes.
Burnett knows his music history and his ear for a melody is emblazoned all over addictive tracks such as The World Will Break Your Heart, featuring the golden tonsils of Gary Clark, the man behind Danny Wilson, and that huge 80s song Mary’s Prayer.
In To The Darkness We Go is one of the most fully formed example of this album’s – in the main – mix of minimalist electro and captivating hooks and features the aching vocals of Andrew Wasylyk with a simple-is- good keyboard part reminiscent of prime time Yazoo.
The contributions add to the diversity of the album so when you hear the familiar tones of Grahame Skinner from Hipsway on the delightful Poster Boy, it is always followed by a less familiar voice, or in this case voices, and the most enigmatic track on the album, Quiet (Shorter). The latter just sounds like a lost 80s classic featuring the underrated talents of singer-songwriters Andrew Howie and Pauline Alexander.
Jill O’Sullivan, the Belfast born, Chicago-raised vocalist and writer of the band, Sparrow and the Workshop, casts her spell on another album standout the compelling There’s No Place Like Home, which features a basic hip hop beat, a blues riff loop and a sparse but bewitching synth doodle.
Regret Is A Dish Best Served Cold is an enticing, although uncharacteristically synth-orientated contribution from former Scottish Album of the Year Award winner RM Hubbert.
Comedian Sanjeev Kohli pops up in the amusing spoken word interlude I Wonder What Chris De Burgh Is Doing Right Now, that perhaps signposts the age group, Burnett and co are aiming at. And I qualify.
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Overall Burnett has produced a less-is-more celebration whose sheer bravado, imagination and playfulness frequently eclipses his other band’s output. Here’s to more toilet music.
CD release on February 14, 2010. Digital release out now.
What does Jan Burnett say about the Grand Gestures project.
“Being a fan of dusty 12” vinyl, synth duos and electronica has led me to create The Grand Gestures, he said in 2012.
“I wanted it to be fun, with a small ‘f’, with a brief to the vocalists and lyricists to steer towards the dark and poignant but do what they want.
“The music was sent to the singer. The singer visited my home, recorded a vocal in the bathroom, and I supplied a curry lunch.
“Nobody bat an eyelid to recording in the bathroom or sitting on the toilet to revise lyrics. The reverb of the tiles helped with the overall sound while giving a nod to Joe Meek.
“Lo budget, hi fi, partly out of necessity, partly out of the freedom it gives me. There is no budget, The Grand Gestures is a love story, a hobby, a happening, a need, a collaboration, a must.
“No computers, but a stand alone 16 track recorder. Treat it like tape, not zeros and ones.
“The contributors were picked up through the years. Friends, and friends of friends.
“No pressure, at ease. Surprisingly everyone turned up, everyone understood, with no need for kneecapping or broken bones.
“My father added guitars and banjo, another clue to the mystery, while some live drums were added to keep us all in time.
“I hope it surprises you, as much as it keeps surprising me.”