This is a bit unexpected. Mammoth Penguins’ first album, while with its own style, picked up not a million miles away from where Emma Kupa’s first band, Standard Fare, left off – quality indieish guitar pop soundtracking vignettes from day-to day life.
So when the needle drops on some background noise, stately strings, mandolin and glitchy beat , the record immediately announces istelf as something rather different. What that is, it transpires, is a portrait of a man faking his own death only to return a few years later. It’s built up non-chronologically, the tracks a series of song snapshots capturing the persectives of different characters, alongside atmosphere-generating instrumental pieces. The guitars do return, but often in a less poppy way and augmented by synth-washes, samples and the aforementioned strings. When a couple of the songs (The Chorus and The Sailor) do swing their hips, it’s in a thoroughly non-indiesh style. While musically quite different, the whole has something of of the feel of King Creosote’s and Jon Hopkins’ Diamond Mine LP.
And the subject matter completely suits Kupa’s facility at capturing the ambivalence and uncertainty of all of stumbling through the minor and major crises of everyday life – even if not so everyday in this case – all sung in her ever-excellent hire-wire teetering croon.
It can go either way when you present something unexpected, but John Doe succeeds throughly- spinning something that feels both literary and artistic out of its musical threads. Rather brilliant.