If you want to keep doom in your pop, you need a trade-off. For every reverberating song of blasted hopes, naked disaster and dramatic plummets into death, there must be a moment when the naked emotion cuts loose: beyond taste, beyond the little voice of reason and logic, and straight into the sweet spot. It’s the same emotional pornography that you’ll find in an overcooked opera, and it works like a charm. If you’re writing deep in the vein of Southern Gothic (in itself, a kind of blue-collar grand opera), this can be the only trick which makes that long black coat billow like it should.
For Never, this point comes about halfway in. Up until then, Kev Craig has been riding a majestic groundswell of piano, bass and anticipatory gushes of cymbal. He’s been singing, obliquely, of love’s fears; of chances lost under blushes, of words becoming “wingless birds.” The guitars and drums have been biding their time, creeping in and out, hinting at heart-crashes.
Now, as all but the piano slips away, here comes the payoff – an invisible gusher, with only Kev’s voice here to ride it. What, up until now, has been a fruity Johnny Cash-cum-Nick Cave impression summons up an even deeper Americana accent, rears high and (as Kev’s lover takes his hand) joyfully bursts its banks: “You told me this truth – / that lovers, unafraid, should open up their graves / and just jump in…”
It’s a tremendous spit in the face of futility; twisting off the sting of death while accepting that it will, one day, be back for its dues. The celebratory boom of instruments that follows could be Arcade Fire or the Waterboys. The blanketing, poisoned romanticism recalls Australia’s great lost desolation band, The Triffids. The weight – ultimately, the whole towering and fruity triumph – is all Last Harbour’s. From here on, the rest of the song is a view down the mountain, but no less grand for that.
There’s more hand-holding on The Heath. This time Kev is sunk deep in a fug of baritone foreboding, with a lone chamber organ looming through the murk to keep him company. There’s a pallid sun, and a gunshot. All else is blurs of detail: coldness, a sense of struggling and drowning, a need for escape. Sometimes the game tilts the other way. Sometimes the view just doesn’t come clear. Sometimes the long black coat just hangs – just like that, just fine.
Last Harbour: ‘Never’
Little Red Rabbit Records, LRR030
released: 30th January 2012