I’m not quite sure what to make of Deaths and Entrances, the new album from Glasgow’s My Latest Novel. The NME (though who cares about them anymore) calls one song “self indulgent choral folk wankery”, which is absurdly over-egging the negative pudding, and yet when points out that the “chiming slice of wonder” that is ‘I Declare A Ceasefire’ is the album’s only real high point, I can’t quite bring myself to disagree. It’s not, though, that the other songs on the record are bad or offensive, and they’re not shallow enough simply to wash over you. When Drowned in Sound point out that lead singer Chris Deveney fails to engage the listener, however, we get closer to the truth.
The band seem to be chanelling Elbow as much as Arcade Fire on this release, but where Guy Garvey’s under-cooked vocals always retain a vibrant sense of humour, Deveney’s singing feels mordant and unemotional. This lends the whole album an unusually detached air, not helped by clinical arrangements which can at times feel almost mechanical in their careful artistry. There are no peeling corners on this record, no ragged lines or uneven applications which give it an air of the organic. It feels calculated, and therefore cold.
You might compare this with similar Scottish indie literaris Butcher Boy, whose React or Die proved earlier this year that you can make a unified and allusive record without squeezing the life out of it. Take the moment in, er, ‘Lacklustre’, in which twin vocals sing ‘minor key to major key’, and the music shifts a semi-tone, effortlessly and instantly, from one third to another: the moment is too easy, and it comes off as a trick rather than an effect. ‘Hopelessly Endlessly’, alas, chugs along in exactly that fashion.
Nevertheless, from time to time the album soars: ‘I Declare A Ceasefire’, as noted, is a thoroughly moving bit of song-writing, in conception and execution both; ‘Dragonhide’, Drowned in Sound’s anti-Lanark bent aside, is actually a relatively light passage of music which, if it fails to convey much in the way of feeling, does at least succeed in strongly evoking an atmosphere; and the final track, ‘The Greatest Shakedown’, succeeds in performing a few of the band’s characteristic turns without the sense that they have been hollowed out by consideration.
What I’m left with at the end of it all, however, is a sense of admiration rather than fondness. Does this make it an album worth the time? I’m still not sure.