A successful sideways step for the Edinburgh band, embracing a more natural sound.
Noel Gardner 2012
It’s easy to think you have all the answers when it comes to reading bands’ intentions – that’s ‘you’, the modern-day listener and message board commenter, as well as the scribes of reviews like this one. But, most often, it’s a fool’s game.
To wit, Something for the Weakened, the third album by Edinburgh-based septet Meursault. Its two full-length predecessors brought together programmed beats and swelling indie-rock with emotionally tender lyrical subject matter. A Scottish answer to The Postal Service, some suggested, and it seemed to be causing their proverbial star to rise.
But these 10 new songs’ instrumentation is wholly non-electronic and frequently acoustic – so is this an attempt at a more commercial sound? Or, indeed, a less commercial one?
Perhaps it’s neither in particular. Regardless, it doesn’t sound forced or ersatz; Neil Pennycook, Meursault’s vocalist and founding member, has (jokingly?) attributed the shift to his laptop breaking. “Epic lo-fi,” Pennycook’s own descriptor for previous album All Creatures Will Make Merry, still carries a certain resonance here.
Something…’s opening track, Thumb, is an acoustic strum of such embryonic simplicity, you could imagine Daniel Johnston singing over it. Mamie, towards the end of the album, patters along with minimal piano and cello backing, the frontman imploring, “Give me the word and I will gladly go to sleep.”
What this isn’t, you understand, is ‘lo-fi’ in the sense of an unclear or amateurish recording – captured in a proper studio for the first time, arrangements are spacious and complementary. This suits Meursault well: there’s something of The Mountain Goats to the likes of Lament for a Teenage Millionaire and Settling.
Sometimes, matters tip over into the windy and adenoidal, and it’s only the small differences of production values separating them from new-school Scottish pomp purveyors like Frightened Rabbit and Broken Records. Dull Spark is almost too pointedly anthemic for its own good, and uninspired lyrics like “For every angel there is a devil,” don’t help much either.
Ultimately, though, it’s hard not to see this as a successful sideways step for Meursault – their move towards a more ‘natural’ sound feels, well, natural for them.