Thursday, 1 October 2009

Gabby Young & Other Animals - We’re All In This Together Album Review (2009)

A review for Altsounds.

It’s always good to hear a British musician making their way in the world. From Wiltshire and now residing in London, Gabby Young and her wonderful backing band ‘Other Animals’ follow up the Bear With Me EP with the debut album We’re All In This Together. The songs are a journey into twisted and weird 1920’s folk cabaret. And yes, it’s as good as it sounds.

The first big problem with We’re All In This Together is a lack of early focus. It’s fine being ambitious and a little eccentric, flirting with flamboyance and a plethora of multi-instrumentalists but it doesn’t always make great music. Most of the time, the issue is Gabby herself who manages to take a good song, strip out any melody and just throw in loads of random stuff and hope something sticks. But it’s not all bad news.

Opener Umm is a hotchpotch of ideas: old fashioned, smoky vocals becoming falsetto, schizophrenic slow then fast, unnecessary shrieking, to name just a few. As a second song Ladies Of The Lake does little to set off the fireworks and consequently the album takes an age to get moving. Ones That Got Away is also one of the times We’re All In This Together brings the madness together successfully. The horn section, piano and Young herself are all excellent. It’s chaotic but unbelievably genuine, even into the last thirty second when it becomes truly insane. The title track has a wonderful rootsy-country feel. Young’s vocals control and command even in the softer moments. “Delicate and fragile you always were. Like china in his hands…” starts as a cliché before changing direction: “…And broken pieces will lie there forever left in these wounds by this man…” and then “We know that you never wanted to hurt her. We know you had another plan…” as the dark sorry tale unfolds. All this pinned by a simple guitar loop. You can’t fault the crafts at work here. Throughout the songs, the lyrics are well thought out. After losing its way vocally, a great brass solo introduces the multi-layered vocal outro.

The moments that drag the album down arrive in fits of dullness and starts of rambling strangeness. Lipsink is a bit too much of a nursery rhyme. Maybe sounds tired and listless. Whose House could be Laura Marling if she hadn’t left Noah And The Whale, a soaring vocal, wishy-washy melody and glorious collection of trumpet, trombone and tuba. The last minute steps too far ending up as a kitchen sink of sounds and vocals. A few more shining moments pepper the mediocre and fading second half. Sour is another great vocal but the whole song feels a bit too long at just over five minutes. A cool trumpet solo late on breaks the monotony but what follows is more of the same with added backing vocals. A great vibe, solid and controlled but nothing special. Ask You A Question is a female fronted Gogol Bordello, a short blast of gypsy-folk.

Too Young To Die takes forever to get moving but creeps through the first two minutes as a compelling story of self-realisation. The vocals build then fall with a delicate piano and clarinet. The next two does much of the same with a more feeling. What is impressive is the decision not to turn all prog-folk and change direction every thirty seconds. The song steers the same direct purposeful and true course. Progress? Closer Two By Two veers dangerously into middle-of-the-road lounge-pop. Great vocals but the instrumental pieces and the messy vocal ending are tuneless distractions when they should show more of the talented musicianship on show. That would be a no then.

When We’re All In This Together works, it works brilliantly. In this day and age of singers trying to make it, most take the easy way out but Gabby Young is making her own music. In her way. With her sound. That has to be commended but Young has an annoying tendency to howl and wail instead of sing. The two short interludes are utterly pointless. For every moment of brilliance there is another of bafflingly odd mediocrity and another of poorly-judged song writing. A real mixed bag that simply doesn’t know what it is. Over ambition? Probably. But you can’t fault a girl for trying.
-- CS (for Altsounds)

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