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.chequerboard.net