Che­quered past

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Music Reviews - SINÉAD GLEE­SON


Penny Black Lazy­bird If ever a record made you want to talk about it in block cap­i­tal su­perla­tives, Che­quer­board’s sec­ond album is it. John Lam­bert fits hazy elec­tronic skir­mishes around clas­si­cally tinged acous­tic gui­tar, and the re­sult is stun­ning. It opens with a blink-and-you’ll miss it sam­ple of Lam­bert’s grand­fa­ther and mother that hints at a mu­si­cal in­her­i­tance (his mother was a folk singer).

Af­ter Lam­bert’s EP, Dic­ta­phone Showreels, Penny Black is a lean nine tracks, but it bursts with melody, and his com­po­si­tional nous has re­ally come into its own. This is prob­a­bly due, in part, to the fact that it was recorded over the course of a year in Sligo’s Ni­land Gallery as part of a fel­low­ship pro­gramme. The iso­la­tion and space af­forded to its record­ing have seeped into the tracks.

Even when a song is stacked up in lay­ers, there is al­ways breath­ing space and room for the var­i­ous com­po­nents to ma­noeu­vre. Typ­i­cal of this is Konichiwa, which greets us with me­chan­i­cal shuf­fles be­fore mov­ing through a melodic mid­point, backed by muted glitches.

The over-rid­ing sound here is Lam­bert’s trade­mark gui­tar, skil­fully plucked with more than a nod to Span­ish me­tre. Live, his per­for­mance is pared down to gui­tar and looped ped­als, but the breadth of an album al­lows him to ex­per­i­ment and roll out a fuller, or­ches­tral sound. Or­nithopter is all lush synth spools, while Skat­ing Cou­ple ebbs and flows in per­cus­sive waves.

En­tirely in­stru­men­tal, the pieces on Penny Black cap­ture shift­ing moods – the heart­break min­i­mal­ism of The Win­ter Ar­cade, the sub­tle op­ti­mism of Toy Winds – in a way most songs don’t man­age with lyrics. Un­like many al­bums in this mu­si­cal vein, it’s ac­ces­si­ble and es­chews pre­ten­tious­ness on any level. As the ti­tle sug­gests, this is a priceless rar­ity and some­thing to trea­sure. Is it too early to start talk­ing about next year´s Choice Mu­sic Prize nom­i­nees? www.che­quer­

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