Crow Hill’s songs first saw the light of day when Meursault put them out on a limited digital release about 18 months ago under the name Fuck Off Back To Art School, promising that they would be fleshed out by perforamnce and a comic strip.
Taking a less overtly personal approach to songwriting, the 12 pieces are apparently intended as a series of stories based around the fictional town of the title. Originally billed as urban horror, there’s certainly a sense of unease prevading them. But with the wan hopefulness of Neil Pennycook’s voice they were always going to be more Carver than Lovecraft in tone. That said, there’s clearly an effort to move away somewhat from the more established Meursault template, which has been amplified in how the songs have developed since that initial release.
Not to say there isn’t a familiar sound at heart. There’s banjos, guitar, strings, a gossamer-light overlay of glitch and whirr. Pennycook retains his skill of eking emotion and loveliness out of the most economical and pared back of melodies. But those melodies are more scuffed – Strong Armed Son sets out a stall, seeing them harshened up and given a real bass propulsion before decending into an end of discordant descants. Elsewhere songs have been given a fuller and more foreboding tone. Nakhla Dog for instance has grown from Watersons-like folk into something more complex. Where other Meursault songs have swelled into almost euphoric heartbursts, these songs still swell, but into something more reined in and pensive, until finally Jenifer bursts into a thunderous rage.
So while Crow Hill might not be done here – I’m looking forward to seeing what further light is shed by the comic strip that will come with the vinyl and hoping that missing the band play up the road at Long Division won’t be a definitive missed opportunity – there’s plenty to admire, dwell on and love in its songs.