Algernon Doll, aka Ewan Grant, is back with his second album, Citalo-pop.
Moving in an altogether noisier direction, fuzzy overdrive, squealing harmonic overtones and some very cool and tasteful soloing are the new order of the day.
Blended together with softer ambient tracks and some intricate classical guitar work, Citalo-pop is an extremely accomplished piece in its entirety, well thought-out as a whole and best listened to as such.
Opener ‘Anti-them’ is the perfect example of this new style and rather than breaking his faithful listeners in gently Grant drops them straight in with this driving pop song.
Masked by fuzzy guitars and vocals saturated with reverb, it has a deliberately lo-fi feel.
It is oddly reminiscent of the Foo Fighters, although much more raw.
Second track ‘Cassini’ will be running through your head for days.
Particularly the opening line (backed by lightly strumming guitar) “Cassini / could never watch you die”, with the rest of the band dropping in heavily on the final word, is very compelling.
The track is in the vein of The Twilight Sad (although that could mainly be said of the drum beat) with screeching guitars and fierce feedback and Grant’s soft vocals riding over the top.
‘Home-schooled’ is the first of the album’s slow burners.
The gentle opening section of the song is tainted by a sense of foreboding that seems to infect the entire album, mirrored in Grant’s lyrics (“Fell from the apple tree / discovered gravity”).
The build into the eventual climax of the heavy guitar riff seems to fulfil this promise, fading out into ethereal keys that segue into the next track.
’23’ (following on from the outro of ‘Home-schooled’) and the titular ‘Citalo-pop’ are both short instrumental tracks.
The first creates a moody ambiance that is built up in the latter with the addition of soft classical guitars and sound effects.
‘Aerosol’ is a dreamy, meandering track, with a loping drumbeat and oo’s and ahh’s in the background giving the impression of a warped record, all fitting in with the overall wet, lo-fi aesthetic that Algernon Doll has achieved.
Comparisons to Elliott Smith will be inevitable with seventh track, ‘Falling In Love With Those Above’.
Somewhat of a gear change, the song features no heavy guitars and no ambient noises but instead a great piano melody and a country drum beat that again demonstrates Grant’s diversity as a songwriter and shows his strength in writing great pop tracks.
‘No Hands’ fools you into thinking it’s another slow-burner.
It begins with just vocals and guitar and the signature foreboding that Algernon Doll creates better than Stephen King (author, dream-weaver, plus actor).
Then at the half way mark it explodes into the heavy guitars of the opening tracks, complete with thudding drum fills and a beat that is almost pop punk.
Grant’s whining vocals, “she says the curtains are plain / he leaves his dishes for days”, complement the track well, giving the song an anxious edge.
The song dissolves into the next instrumental section of the album, ‘Citalo-pop #2’.
Building on the earlier theme of ‘Citalo-pop’, Grant ramps it up with the use of horror film motifs of bows dragged across cymbal edges, tinkling, off-kilter piano melodies, and an air-siren that could be straight out of Silent Hill.
Again, starting slowly, ‘Snuff’, then becomes another great bounce along pop track in the last third.
The separate elements of the track, the heavy and the acoustic, are successfully pulled together by Grant’s vocals and the use of ambient noise that would otherwise be quite disparate.
‘Venus’ is the most stripped back song on the album, with no effects on the vocals, Grant’s voice is laid bare for the first time on Citalo-pop and beneath the reverb and the distortion is actually a very pretty voice, technically good yet retaining an honesty and an authenticity that is sometimes lost by singers with such accuracy.
‘Cut-throat Kid’ is a return to the storming, grungey pop of the opening tracks and, along with ‘Anti-them’ and ‘Cassini’, is one of the best tracks on the album.
Musically, it does nothing starkly different from these two songs (although does have a nice vintage sound to the drum kit which is a good touch) but it does feature some brilliant lyrics: “I left my heart in San Francisco yet I’ve never been / I’m safe to travel once my spine grows in again”.
Final track ‘Unaligned (an afterthought)’ slows everything down again and I wonder if it may have been better to finish at ‘Cut-throat Kid’ after coming full circle to the start of the album.
The anxious tension created throughout is pushed over the edge slightly.
However, what the track does do well is bring together all the elements of the album, mirroring its epic scope.
The second outing from Algernon Doll is not just a follow up to debut album Camomile, but an evolution.
It successfully keeps the raw, emotional edge of Grant’s writing despite being multi-layered and complicated musically.
While the instrumental sections of the album may be viewed by some as pretentious, there is no denying the down to earth appeal of some of the earnest, noisy rock songs Grant has created here.
Whatever comes next from Algernon Doll, you can bet it will be something different again.
Words: Callum McSorley
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