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Black Angel Drifter - Black Angel Drifter

  by John Clarkson

published: 8 / 11 / 2016

Black Angel Drifter - Black Angel Drifter
Label: Bastard Recordings
Format: CD


Unsettling but riveting eponymous album from Black Angel Drifter, the side project of Morton Valence’s Robert ‘Hacker’ Jessett and Anne Gilpin

The eponymous album of Black Angel Drifter, the side project of Morton Valence’s Robert ‘Hacker’ Jessett and Anne Gilpin, opens, as did Morton Valence’s breakthrough second album, ‘Me and Home James’, with the sound of crickets. Yet, while that earlier 2011 album, then lead into the short and elegiac ‘The Death of a Cockney Amorist’, a soft, hymnal country tune about the last moments and thoughts of an elderly East Ender, ‘Skylines Change/Genders Blur’, the opening track of ‘Black Angel Drifter’, then proceeds with a succession of blood-curdling screams, the rush of foreign radio static and what sounds like the sound of someone heavily snoring. This is highly symbolic, as in comparison to the more clean-cut Morton Valence, Black Angel Drifter is a much darker, wilder and untamed animal. Main songwriter Jessett has defined Morton Valence in the past as an ‘urban country’ band, meaning that they were bringing Americana sounds to narratives and lyrics about his native Brixton and South London, but here with Black Angel Drifter he seem to be looking distinctively West. Distortion is a key component, there are moments of psychedelia and Ennio Morricone and Gothic Westerns are prime influences and self-acknowledged touchstones. The overall tone of ‘Black Angel Drifter’ is sinister and bleak. ‘Skylines Change/Genders Blur’ eventually develops with the aid of a doomy, rumbling bass into a drawling, dirge-like tune in which Jessett and Gilpin coo at each other through the aid of voice distorters in the chorus, “Nothing else is worth waiting for.” It is clear, however, that this is the sort of self-annihilating love affair of Sid and Nancy or that of Bonnie and Clyde, the latter of whom a smirking Jessett and Gilpin, carrying raised shotguns, portray on the sleeve of ‘Black Angel Drifter’. Morton Valence have recorded murder ballads before, such as the classic ‘Annie McFall’ on their third album ‘Left’, but while those tunes were often dressed up with an on-the-surface saccharinity, here the tone is much blacker. The eerie ‘Black-Eyed Susan’ tells of a case of filicide and is punctured by the sounds of a crackling bullwhip. On the downbeat ‘If I Could Start Again’, which with its softer country edges is the tune on 'Black Angel Drifter' that most resembles a Morton Valence track, one is meanwhile never sure whether its hapless junkie narrator who tells his tale from a prison cell, having dumped in a river the body of a dead girl he has found beside him in bed, has actually committed murder or been the victim of a bizarre chain of circumstances. There is a cover too of Bob Dylan’s ‘Man in a Long Black Coat’ from his 1989 album ‘Oh Mercy’, but, with its menacing psychedelic dirges, solitary harmonica and Jessett and Gilpin’s melancholic joint vocals, it is more nocturnal in tone than the original. Field recordings have a huge part to play in ‘Black Angel Drifter’. ‘Skylines Change/Genders Blur’ also throws into its last moments what sounds like a recording of a mob riot. Radio static drifts in and out throughout. There is the noise of a brass band and a fun fair on another song, ‘Lead On, Take It Away’. The skewed, disturbing ‘Tired of Tears’, about two desperate alcoholics, meanwhile concludes with the sound of a panting girl, but, set against the backdrop of a funereal drum beat, one becomes increasingly uncertain whether she is in the throws of sex or alternatively in agony. While often surreal and unsettling, ‘Black Angel Drifter’, which is packed with imagination and ideas, is also absolutely riveting. Jessett and Gilpin are clearly having a fantastic time of it toying with our emotions, and the growing thought that at least part of this is tongue-in-cheek is confirmed with the ambient final track, ’24.33’, which in homage to John Cage concludes, rather than in silence, with exactly that minutes and seconds of more crickets. ‘Black Angel Drifter’ is one of the most unusual and distinctive albums of the year.

Track Listing:-
1 Skylines Change / Genders Blur
2 Black-Eyed Susan
3 Sister Pain
4 The Visit
5 The Man in the Long Black Coat
6 If I Could Start over Again
7 Trail of Tears
8 Lead on, Take It Away
9 Hymn Four

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