"Even in fantasy, you have to be sensible."
Pale Bird, aka Martin Austwick, or the artist formerly known as the Sound of the Ladies possesses an instantly identifiable folkish indie sound. Part of this is down to Austwick’s oddly soothing voice, his guitar work, or the feeling of space his production techniques provide between each instrument. It acts as an audible thread connecting each of his musical projects to his previous ones, regardless of their shape or form.
Ten Things Which Aren’t Love finds Pale Bird delivering a dozen songs which focus on human interactions and relationships, some of them romantic, but as the album title suggests, most of them not. Given Austwick’s background in physics, and his penchant for weaving scientific references into his lyrics, you might think that Ten Things Which Aren’t Love is something of a departure for him, however he has previously proven himself equally as adept at songs which comb over the often-missed fine details of relationships, so it’s nice to hear him focus on that for a while, although no doubt some will miss his references to “sciencey stuff”.
Having been beguiled by Austwick’s previous album, Through Intermittent Rain, I was pleased that Ten Things Which Aren’t Love opened with a pair of pretty numbers in the shape of “I Thought I’d Find a Friend” and “Superviolent”, although they took a little longer to burrow under my skin than I expected. “The Bats and the Bears” absolutely hit the spot on first listen though, trotting along as it does at a slightly brisker pace. “You’ve Got a Lot of Teeth” slows the pace, but it’s an absolute corker of a number, and the musical equivalent of a loose and spontaneous sketch that is “I’m a Fan of You” is the very definition of an economic, but perfectly balanced song.
While a song title like “Your Fridge is on Its Way” may invite notions of silliness and that Pale Bird could mark the moment where Austwick might not taking his music particularly seriously, it’s actually a dramatic and oddly moving number. A real strength of Martin Austwick’s songwriting and musical delivery is his ability to sound so personal and intimate, focusing on the little things in life that those who deal with the broader brush strokes sometimes miss. Sure, it means that his music may never achieve universal appeal, but that’s missing the point a little, as those to whom it does appeal, will be utterly charmed and absolutely won over by Ten Things Which Aren’t Love.
There are moments of Ten Things Which Aren’t Love which take longer to assimilate than others. The two opening numbers took half a dozen or so listens to make much of an impact on me, and it’s only taken the last couple of listens while I’ve been writing this review for “There’s Going to be Rain On My Window Tonight” to leap out at me. That is one of the nice things about Ten Things Which Aren’t Love though, it’s an album you go on a journey getting to know. Indeed, enduring friendships don’t leap out at you fully formed from the moment you meet someone, they change and evolve over time, and Ten Things Which Aren’t Love is an album where your perceptions do change as you become more familiar with it. This is an album I could happily have a lazy afternoon in the pub with, shooting the breeze and just enjoying the company of. Sure song titles like “What Do You Think of When You Don’t Think of Me” and “We Walked Together Through a Landscape of Improbable Ideas” may seem unnecessarily wordy and complex, but once you’ve spent a bit of time with them, they absolutely reflect those two songs. Sometimes relationships aren’t straightforward, but that doesn’t mean that they’re not worth investing time in. In fact, there’s every chance that Pale Bird may prove to be exactly what you need in your life right now.
Ten Things Which Aren’t Love closes with “Now That I’m Not In Love With You”, another perfectly formed study of a small but intense emotional scenario. And as it seems to wander away, you realise that this is an album you want to spend more time in the company of in future, either shooting the breeze in that pub on a lazy afternoon, or just chatting about the minutiae of life that makes up the big picture.
That then may be the great success of Ten Things Which Aren’t Love. Instead of delivering broad universal brush strokes, it concentrates more on the tiny little details that make up those broader brush strokes. You know, the important little things that others might miss, but are so important to us as individuals.
Nicely played Dr Austwick, nicely played…
Ten Things Which Aren’t Love is released 3 November, and is available to pre-order at: http://palebirdmusic.bandcamp.com