Aliens have dodged a bullet with 30lbs of Air – a “concept album” that captures the essence of war while escaping the clichés.
The term “concept album” tends to send a shiver down my spine. This turned into a shudder when I heard that the concept of this particular album was the ordinary men and women who sacrificed their lives on D-Day in the name of freedom. Don’t get me wrong; this is a powerful theme. I just wasn’t sure I wanted to listen to a whole album of songs about war. Well, with 30lbs of Air (out on 18th of October via Metal Postcard Records), Aliens prove just how wrong it can be to prejudge.
Aliens is a music/film collective that began to take form in 2016 on the back of troubling world events – terrorism, Trump and Brexit, to name a few. Composer and producer Iain Harvie (of Scots rockers Del Amitri) and filmmaker, songwriter and singer Tim May were soon joined by Helen Turner from Paul Weller & Style Council (keys), Martyn Barker from Shriekback (drums), The Bible’s Leroy Lendor (bass), and Tommy Sheen (guitar). In keeping with their response to the turbulent political times and escalating social issues, their single ‘Desolation Angel’ – written with Jungle’s Fraser MacColl – was released in aid of Centrepoint, the UK’s leading youth homelessness charity, and was chosen as BBC Radio Scotland’s record of the week back in 2018.
Harvie has since returned to Del Amitri full-time, so May enlisted Grammy-nominated songwriter, guitarist and producer Calum MacColl to help him write some new material. Between lockdowns, they grabbed time with producer George Shilling (Steve Winwood, Texas, Blur, Gabrielle, Primal Scream – to name a few) and 30lbs of Air (a reference to the amount of air a human being breathes in a day) was born.
I’m not sure why I was hesitant to listen to an album of songs that reference war. May’s desire to show the connections between the threat to democracy from today’s authoritarians and 20th-century fascists is one I wholeheartedly agree with. Also, it’s not like songs about war are a bad thing. Take the much-loved antiwar Christmas song that isn’t a Christmas song: ‘Stop The Cavalry’ by Jona Lewie. One of my favourite Richard Thompson songs is ‘Dad’s Gonna Kill Me’ (about a soldier in the Iraq war). And music and singing is something we often associate with troops running and marching.
Be assured that this album is a lot more than just songs in the key of war. Yes, there is the occasional distant bugle and military-sounding snare drum beat that hints at the theme, but the result is slick alt-rock from a band that can put together infectious harmonies and catchy choruses. The stand-out tracks for me are the rockier numbers – the earworm of first single ‘Liberation Road’ and the guitar-driven groove of ‘Plague Dogs’ being the highlights. That said, the ballad ‘So Long My Love’ is a beautifully tender moment that shares the perspective of the loved ones left behind. Appropriately, this will be released as a single on Remembrance Day/Veterans Day on the 11th of November and the proceeds will go to Cruse Bereavement Care. As you can tell, Aliens are not a band to take on a theme lightly and this album demonstrates the impact they can have when they get stuck in.
It may have become an alien concept to listen to an album of songs in the order they were intended to be played but, with 30lbs of Air, Aliens prove that it is still a pleasurable – and powerful – endeavour.