It’s not often that an album comes along that leaves you lost for words. If I struggle to think about those that have in the last few years I’d have to hold up my hands and say Porcupine Tree’s ‘Stupid Dream’ from 1999 and last years Morning Star epic ‘My place in the dust’. Both albums, overlooked and undervalued, had within their make up the signs of crafted musicianship and a sense of rare passion working it’s magic.
Oddfellows Casino’s debut longplayer possesses similar traits. A sense of mysticism and something long lost. Beautifully constructed, ‘Yellow Bellied Wonderland’ is so slight in nature that it can be easily dismissed for it’s more than often fey quality. Easy going, it doesn’t beg anything of the listener only patience and time. Under the light melodies, everyday dramas and haunting memories are played out to the full, in some ways it’s chirpy polished ceramics are scratched by the down tempo moods underneath.
Typically English, this debut sparks with a sensitivity more associated with Robert Wyatt and with it a hint of eccentricity. Aside the 60’s fix of the recent single, ‘Giant Redwood / Put the bird to sleep’, both included here, former Shimmy man, Bramwell and Co unearth smouldering, gas lamp laden lonely lane odysseys that capture sophisticated though haunting, landscapes that are neatly engaged to, within their palate, seduce and cause heartbreak.
Within the lyrical texts, the ghosts of the Oddfellows Casino, a humane freak circus that toured at the towns at turn of the Century, whisper their magic and play out their eternal show for an imaginary public. The underlying impression that ‘Yellow Bellied Wonderland’ conveys amongst its sensual smoothness is not only the hidden sense of freedom and wide-open nature, but also one of departure. The theme is constantly revisited, mixing personalised demons and historical interpretations so much so that the lines overlap making the creator become the voice of the tales’ protagonist.
Opening with the melancholic ‘Road movie’, itself an uneasy horror show of cruel imagery, it’s almost as if the author questions exactly who the real freaks are with an almost accusing finger at the so called normality of society. Intertwined with the harrowing plight of the cats and the twisted sense of realism “their bodies choked to sleep, crying out for mother”. ‘Giant Redwoods’ offers brief respite from the feeling of distaste, a wonderfully pitched breezy 60’s Hammond drenched pop song that neatly bleeds into the ethereal ‘Some corner of the evening’. Adopting a towering symphonic grace akin to Moby’s ‘Play’ to create a timeless epic of some stature. ‘The last of the great days’ with it’s themed spaced mix of Bowie’s ‘Space Oddity’ and the Carpenters ‘Calling occupants’ is extraordinarily distant. Beginning with a tasty take on Gerswhin and even having time to cock a snoop at the latest pop parade “these are the last great songs, they’ll be recycling only familiar ones from now on”. The duetting clarinet and cornet adding to the sense of coldness and finality perfectly.
‘Put the bird to sleep’ must be vying for single of the year, a tormented mix of quintessential Brian Wilson circa ‘In my room’ aligned to eastern melodies, delicately sweet with a twist of melancholia for added impact. ‘Hide me Joe’ similarly skips to 60’s reminiscences recalling Love, Simon and Garfunkel’s ‘Strawberry Fayre’ and the Maypole madness scenes in the ‘Wicker Man’, Kirsty Baggins flute playing giving it an folky gloss throughout. ‘The prune faced man and his fat wife’ is an intricate mood symphony, curvaceous and lush but exuding a feeling of loneliness and remoteness more associated with Wyatt and with a polished eye for detail akin to McAloon’s ‘Andromeda Heights’ phase. ‘Swingers’ the most upbeat track here is unstoppable and curiously veers towards the Eagles in proud flight. Closing with the tortured ‘Ballad of Oddfellow’ the waltzing carnival sound of the accordion playing minuets with the chilling brass accompaniment, beautifully executed and exquisitely refined and acting as a perfect curtain closer.
If you adore subtleties and things out of step with the current consensus, then ‘Yellow Bellied Wonderland’ will re-affirm your faith that truly classic songwriters exist out there somewhere. In short, the rarest of things.