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Desert Hearts, 'Hotsy Totsy Nagasaki'
The cover is a funereal black, like 'Smell The Glove' the legendary 14th album by Spinal Tap. Alternately, it could be a homage to 'Unknown Pleasures', the scarey and skeletal debut by Joy Division. Who's to say? Maybe the toner in their photocopier wasn't working so well that day.
Hey, it's not a massive issue, considering the substantial music inside. Great peaks of elation and anxiety, fearlessness and self-pity. Soaring tunes and stuttering verses. We feared that this album might never arrive, but it's here and it sounds uncommonly fine.
People who've witnessed the live experience will know how it generally works. There's Charley Mooney with the wiry guitar, the spasmodic moves and the spiky, affecting words. We've got Roisin Stewart holding it together on bass and sometimes singing with a husky authority. That leaves Chris Heaney to patter around the drums, a cool, intelligent player who makes sense out of the seeming chaos.
That's still the deal with 'Hotsy...' but on a song like 'Urchin' you will also hear a trumpet, a cello, keyboards and a vast choir. The song builds from a cracked expression of love that a glowing revelation. Charley's stood there on the steps, his fingers in his sleeves "and the echoes all around from the burning maple leaves". Indeed.
'Ocean' and 'Gravitas' are tested favourites. On the former, Roisin and Charley trade lines like a cussing couple. He's evidently a waster, but an exceptional one. And so he suffers the put-downs long enough to say how his heart is actually strung-out and true.
The songwriter is taunted by the idea of perfection and the dismay at not arriving there. On the opener 'D Moon Pilot', he wonders, "How do you make a beautiful picture / How do you make something they would die for?" He spends the next 40 minutes in that quest.
The lyrics of 'Central Line' should be carved on a tombstone. On 'Gravitas' there's a promise to be out of this world before the thirtieth birthday. 'Goodbye To Everything' is no school excursion either. And so the unease builds, almost tempting you to file this CD beside 'The Holy Bible', that cheerless classic.
Then comes the delirious release 'Bone Song'. It's a song that labours in the mire of a domestic row. But the song won't be held there and it starts to arc over the trouble, steering it like Black Francis or Wayne Coyne, strange and satisfying. And directly, we're into 'Apple' a song that's sublime and affectionate and beautifully out of context.
It closes with the title track, trawling through the rubble again, thinking about the girl, the devastation and the siren's call of alcohol. It's hardly a beautiful picture, but neither have they painted it black. Real life is in the middle, somewhere.