In the 60′s the double album meant four sides of pleasure. Side one and two of record A, coupled with side one and two of record B. Although still prevelant in the 70′s, the jump in technology meant we were down to two sides with the trusty cassette tape throughout the rest of the 70′s and into the 80′s. By the 90′s we were down to one side via the trusty compact disc. The less said about the short-lived mini disc and 8 track formats the better. With dowloads becoming the format of choice in the noughties, it would seem people are going backwards with the teenies, the resurgence of the cassette tape being a prime example. I’ll never quite understand if it’s an “amazing tape quality, man” that I’m unaware of, or if it’s just the cool thing to do these days? Either way the cassette seems to be an extremely popular choice for the kids these days. That said, when was the last time we saw a double studio album by an Irish talent? More so, an Irish talent with fuck all money and plenty of time.
Ginnels is the brainchild of Grand Pocket Orchestra/No Monster Club guitarist/bassist Mark Chester. 2011 gave way to two fine releases from the Dublin-based brainiac. The self titled album Ginnels and the mini album Mountbatten Class. If we ever needed proof that Chester has no shortage of ideas, his latest offering Crowns (a 20 track double album, recorded and mixed entirely in his living room) would be a good start. His music is described by Chester as “like your favourite Byrds and Feelies records being drowned out by your dickhead neighbour’s stoned ‘noise jams’. Except actually good”. Sounds like a good starting point to me…
Album opener ‘Salty Waves’ begins with a noise intro before unleashing into 3 minutes of fuzzed up pop, taking in elements of Grand Pocket Orchestra with their cow punk rhythms and female backing vocals. From here on out that’s the closest we get to Chester’s other day job as ‘Gangs of Witches’ goes all 90′s jangle on us. The mandolins remind us of another three letter entity a million miles from GPO while the melody could have the Hacienda hopping. To Chester it’s seamless, the meoldies are great and well structured and the bass lines are nice and busy too, opting to stray around the neck instead of just hanging around the root note.
‘Childish Lane Story’ could be the love child of AC Newman and Tom Petty before we literally climb the acid soaked ‘Festival Walls’ in a Barrett-esque voyage from acoustic jangle to late 60′s psych and back, the first of the album’s instrumental outros being a particular highlight. On ‘Heathwaite Wood’ we’re back in cowpunk territory, tambourines bashing at rapid speed while once again the GPO influence shines through.
Easing out and pulling the tempo back sees Chester deliver the highlight of Side A. The wonderfully enduring ‘Estendarm’. A fantastic melody wrapped in samples and electronics, it comes accross like MBV on uppers. Once again we are treated to a fantastic outro as the last 60 seconds resonate in a wall of sound, the track stripped down to a single acoustic and Chester’s lone vocal treated to perfection with studio wizardry, perfectly capturing the moment.
Chester has a fantastic knack for creating melody. What he can produce over a two chord trick has to be admired. ‘Europe’s Soil’ again is a prime example. In this case it’s the sparse bursts and attention to detail that lets the song breathe while simutaneously highlighting the strength of the melody’s placement. Here the sound of 90′s Manchester seems to shiiiiine through on Chester’s vocal take once again. If that’s an influence at least it’s in key, unlike a recent resurrection.
Closing the first side is a whirlwind of short, straight to the point, pop greatness. On the brilliant ‘Wake Up Normal’, Chester’s love of all things indie pop is truly evident, before the The C-86 vibe of ‘This is Conor’ showcases its fuzzed up lead guitar, jumping in unison with every vocal note Chester sputters. Just a few of the wonderfully created tones you will hear throughout the album.
Pop enthusiasts will rejoice with “A Boy Without a Crown”, fantastic finish to the album’s first side. Layers of acoustics and warm fuzz flow underneath swirling portamento leads. More proof that Chester can do this stuff in his sleep.
I have to admit, the thought of reviewing a double album is always a little daunting beforehand. Pausing at the halfway mark, those thoughts are immediately cast aside. If anything I look forward to what the second half might bring. That old chestnut “It’s a game of two halves” comes to mind.
We ease into side two with the soft pop jangle of ‘Misery & Moan’. Clocking in at just over a minute it’s a well placed interlude before we get back to business. ‘Vicenza’ is distinctively 90′s, bringing to mind The Wannadies at their best in both structure and sound. The verse section of ‘You Should Have Listened to Them’ is home to some wonderfully creative ideas. The alternate 3 beat rhythm works brilliantly over the rest of the songs 4/4 chug. Creating the alternate puts a fantastic spin on one of the album’s many highlights. The lo-fi scuzz guitars sound fantastic and bring me right back to my personal love of classic 90′s albums like Pavement’s Slanted & Enchanted (Mmm, a good memory – Ed.).
A constant theme that runs through the album is the wonderful song outros. Again, Chester does a magnificent job of highlighting the strength of the song’s melody, this time opting for an alternate drum pattern coupled with a soloing guitar taking the place of Chester’s voice. Fantastic stuff!
My personal favourite ‘Friends are Dead’ follows in full on Lo-Fi glory. Although tough to decipher, it does sound like the pounding of keys on the cheap synths as the opening chords resonate. Here Chester takes a minimal approach, much like Brian Wilson did with the wonderful ‘Love You’ album in 1977. Drums and guitars are pushed aside as Chester’s pop genius takes centre stage, shining in all its glory. R Stevie Moore would be proud.
With 20 songs to choose from picking a single wasn’t going to be an easy task but ‘It’s Not a Summer (Without You)’ gets the seal of approval from me too. Great choice (be it the label or Chester). Nothing says single like the word ‘summer’ in a song. It’s a no brainer! Clocking in at under 3 minutes, it’s perfect alt radio pop, fuzzed up and full of energy. No it doesn’t have the €5,000 production value of The Coronas. Actually, let me rephrase that. The Fucking Coronas. Nor does it need it. Strictly lo-fi and utterly brilliant with more heart than all four C**onas combined.
‘While You Sleep’ delivers the hush – “this is happening while you sleep” – its dreamy and MBV-like acoustic fuzz floating over the most wonderfully under produced drum sound I’ve ever heard. ‘You’ll Go Far’ pays tribute to cult classic Crazy Rhythms with a tasteful two and a half minute nod before Chester wraps the whole thing up perfectly. Album closer ‘The Last Thing We’ll Do’ brings us home with a gorgeous groove. A last waltz if you will, the highlight being the wonderfully arranged backing vocals, swirling beautifully on every second bar. It’s a superb finish that I’m sure Malkmus would have closed ‘Terror Twilight’ with, if only he had written it.
It’s great to see this album get release under the Popical Island umbrella. A fine collective of like minded musicians who recognise great talent and do their utmost to nourish it. Crowns is a true example. As a double album it’s a brave statement at first but Chester has absolutely nothing to worry about as there isn’t a dud track in sight.
Like other great double albums – The Beatles’ White Album, Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side Of The Moon – it reflects the here and now. Love, loss, social inclusion and separation, the soundtrack to every generation throughout history. You could put this album on anywhere, anytime and reap its rewards, be it a Sunday drive, a house party, a BBQ, a walk to the shops or even live in person at a festival. Clocking in at the brilliant time of 58:58 its vast amount of diverse influence and attention to detail has resulted in one hell of a ride. Pop perfection personified.