It’s all butter side up for Black Thorn..
If I could sum up playing it briefly (not my forté I realise!) then it would be that it feels optimistic, summery – it wonderfully encapsulates the kind of festival feeling in which you might invariably encounter Black Thorn strutting their stuff on a stage. I think it’s the accordion wielded by Josie more than anything that soaks these tracks with cheerfulness and light-heartedness, with Joel’s heartfelt vocal style, Jack’s bass rhythms and Adam’s guitar it all knits together into a well-honed collection of songs.
There’s some development from the live performances I’ve seen – double bass, brass, melodica and synths feature in here, as well as guest appearances giving more vocals, percussion, didgeridoo, harmonica and cornet, but it doesn’t detract one little bit from the kind of turns on stage I’ve seen the band put in a number of times over the summer. It’s ambitious, but it doesn’t over-reach by any stretch – add to your consideration that the whole thing was mixed and mastered by Joel himself – in a damp cellar in Derbyshire according to the album sleeve – and it becomes all the more impressive!
It opens up with Cabin Fever – one that felt immediately familiar with a few festival outings – starting with birdsong and guitar strums, a ‘woo!’ kicks the full track in (Black Thorn are a very woo-y band – and it fits them perfectly) – it changes rhythm and pace, I think the narrative is the anticipation of waiting for summer. Psychic Sally picks up a very different theme – on the dubious merits of the psychic industry, whether or not it’s inspired by a famous ‘psychic’ of that name was fervently denied on Facebook by Joel – it carries on nicely in tone from the first track but is gently scathing by the same token with an empassioned chorus.
A break from such seriousness kicks in with a fun melodious and ponderously paced tribute to the love of red wine, Vin Rouge is an irresistable singalong.. a fruity little number that lingers on the ear – then half way in some wonderful slap bass and instrumental work changes the pace to a dancey didgeridoo overlaid jig. VCR slows the pace back down, building in intensity and layers only to fade away again to a near pause before a frenetic finish makes up the final third – ready to build a watching crowd into a dancing frenzy.
Slaves picks up the fairly familiar theme to many – the idea of being an office-based slave compelled to early starts and dressing up for corporate whoredom, and their refusal to do that. Of course, that’s an easy prospect if you can pen and perform songs like this, ha! It’s pretty uplifting musically, a middle-eight of gentle singing along sees the song kick back in with a vengeance. ‘I won’t be a slave, my freedom’s what I crave’ – it’s hard to argue with that, tempered though I generally am by the reality of modern life!
Trumpet and delicate guitar work moves into almost chanted vocals for Fat Freddy, eventually the pace kicks in and Joel’s voice soars into tunefulness. There’s pace changes and flourishes aplenty – I couldn’t even hazard a guess as to the subject matter, there’s another trance-like middle-eight in here with brass and didgeridoo and dance beats before the singing resumes. Festive might be the sequel to the first track – cheerful from the off (it even has a ‘woo’ too!) it’s a feel-good festival tribute, perfectly encapsulating the revelry of a festival goer (personally I’m not such a fan of the mud, though!).
Barely Breathing is a stand out track – a duet between Joel and Josie, minimal percussion, heartfelt – just when you think it might remain a charming dirge probably the treat of the album for me is unleashed – some wonderful Dave Gilmour-esque guitar work overlays the gentle bass and drums. What is this? Prog-folk? I’m not sure but I really can’t get enough of it. Take a bow, Adam – I presume it’s you making that axe sing! Silhouette is back to more regular form – a ‘woo’, and more pace – it sounds like it’s recalling the past somehow, it’s the perfect set up for the next track…
… Catch Me If You Can in my head at least is probably the Black Thorn’s signature tune – catchy, infectious – it encapsulates their energy, drive and diversity – interludes for some funky bass work, but irresistibly returning to the singalong ‘duh duh duh duhhhh duh’ sections time and again. A slow start for The Little Things soon kicks into another pacey number – again, the backing vocal sections could make for a great live singalong device, there’s more electric guitar work overlaid in here and complex pace changes and bass riffs that would certainly keep a crowd on its toes.
That leads us inexorably to the final track – Human Rave sounds like some kind of mash up of Daft Punk and Peatbog Faeries. I joked on Facebook they should press a load of 12″ white label vinyls of it and send it to leading DJs – this is dance-folk, I could actually imagine it crossing over into nightclubs brilliantly (not that I have any idea what nightclub DJs are spinning these days!) – these layers, paces and haunted vocals overlaid screams decadence – you can just imagine a foam party in Ibiza ‘giving it large’ to it (okay, so I’m never going to pull that kind of language off – but you know what I mean!).
Forty three minutes of pure feel-good cheerfulness – I love this album, it has complexity in layers and pace changes – but without ever becoming too busy or inaccessible, all the tracks are unmistakably Black Thorn but there’s so many different styles and influences thrown in here, yet they hang together as a collection of songs fantastically well. It’s made me realise that I really need to take in some full Black Thorn gigs as frankly a festival set list is just not long enough to make the most of them.
You can listen to Butter Side Up on iTunes, Spotify or Apple Music – if you want to avail yourself of a physical CD then head on over to Black Thorn’s Bandcamp page. I can’t think of many better ways to invest a tenner. Butter side up indeed! Band photos were shamelessly pinched from Snotography – thanks Ella!