Wednesday, 10 February 2016

Brand new EP Wise Ol' Man - The Fall in Review

The Fall will release a seven track EP Wise Ol’ Man on the 19th of February, postponed from the original date of the 29th of January it is well worth the wait. 
The group celebrate their 40th anniversary and continue to make exciting, challenging music. In the sea of bland that passes for mainstream music these days it is refreshing to occasionally hear genuine, uncompromising creative artists. Even without the late John Peel, The Fall can be heard on the radio, something rich and strange and immediately arresting.


The Fall have always received a little media attention: partly due to Mark E. Smith’s hard work and innate need to communicate but largely due to the sheer quality of their output. We’ve been hearing from lots of young music fans who were excited by The Fall live at Glastonbury and have started to explore the back catalogue. With several hundred releases to navigate it will likely bring several years of pleasure.

It’s always impossible to absorb The Fall without repeated listenings as the songs and the ideas tend to gradually reveal themselves over time and this new release is no exception.

Clocking in at just less than 36min the EP has a great feel to it and like the Re-mit and Sub-Lingual Tablet LPs there’s lots of melody and vocal clarity, moments of real discordant beauty.

The title track, Wise Ol’ Man, rattles along with multi-layered vocals and a complex interplay between Mark E. Smith and his wife Elena Poulou. Peter Greenway’s chiming swirling guitar lifts the beginning of the track into something almost rock. Across the whole EP the songs are flowing in such a way that the group can work around the vocal deliveries with Elena’s pulsing, squelching, vibrating keyboards, Dave Spurr’s bass and the twin drums of Keiron Melling and Daren Garratt creating experimental musical shapes.

The showcase and centrepiece of the record is All Leave Cancelled. Here the lyrics and indeed the vocals are alternately obscure and lucid, with the voices working as another instrument; a weird sonic landscape is created where the incredible patterns that emerge from the rhythm section sound like the crazy workings of the Live-Evil era Miles Davis band. It isn’t jazz and it isn’t like anything you’ve heard before. Over the full 8min 21s the track is oddly compelling. And the listener is taken on a journey to where everything is going to fall apart before the bass and drum storm lifts and the skies of melody clear. Anyone looking for a precedent or similar track in The Fall discography might try Black Roof or ask the good Captain Beefheart but this track only uses its influences and inspirations as a starting point and takes off in its own way in its own wonderful and frightening directions. It would be wrong to label The Fall as post-rock but a pinch of Chicago underground, a little early Tortoise creeps among the strangeness.

Dedication Not Medication (Remix) is utterly outstanding and its sharper focus sits well in contrast to the preceding soundscape. This is a little bit like the version on the Sub-Lingual Tablet cd but with less bed wet pills and no “Connie and Cookie”, it’s a lot less like the original vinyl version, in that there is no trippy spoken word vocal interruption and anti-music stylings. Indeed the version we have here is a celebration and a lot like the live versions lucky fans will be familiar with. The track builds and builds on a wave of sound and Daren adds a vocal chant as counterpoint.

If you haven’t had the chance to see The Fall live then don’t miss out. As a poor second you can track down some of the live recordings in circulation.

Wise Ol’ Man (Instrumental) is not an instrumental but rather a more stripped down and straightforward version of the song.

Venice With Girls is also a new version of the opening track from last year’s S-LT LP: this time the vocal melodies seem even sweeter, the playing is even tighter and there’s an additional synth line.

Next, listeners are treated to a fourth and possibly the finest version of Face Book Troll.  Everything that was bizarre and hysterical about the previous versions (the storming anger of Fibre Book Troll from the Modoselektion Volume 3 compilation; the warped vocals from the S-LT cd and the looping relentless Sister Ray trolling of the vinyl side) gets condensed and combined here to dramatic effect. The power of the track is enhanced by bolting it on to a recent live take on No Xmas For John Quays. Here the group live sound possessed and on fire. Thanks to the sterling work of fans like Hanley Played a Fender we can pinpoint the recording to the Brudenell Social Club in Leeds on 28th November 2014. A pan-seasonal offering and a reminder that drugs are not just for Christmas.

All Leave Cancelled (X) rounds off the EP and reprises the track heightening the main elements of the song.

As with 2013’s The Remainderer there’s also a visceral sense of excitement and the playful experimentation of a group at the height of their powers.