There has always been an inescapable magnetism to the creativity and songs of UK singer/songwriter/producer James Cook, and the release of second solo album Adventures In Ausland certainly does not lose any of that imagination sparking prowess. In fact it takes it to new levels with tracks which are bred from even greater maturity and inventive expression in sound and lyrical enterprise. The new release reaps the masterful essences of its predecessor Arts & Sciences, evolving them into richer and more intricate textures and arrangements. The expected pop heart of Cook’s songs is still as infectious as ever but with no disrespect to what came before, it has grown up to offer even more compelling and invigorating explorations of his distinct English chamber rock.
First drawing attention with the band Nemo, which released a trio of well-received albums between 2004 and 2008, Cook has made a bigger impression matched by equally potent acclaim through his solo work. Between Nemo and Arts & Sciences, he also appeared in and wrote songs for numerous Mighty Boosh episodes, collaborated with Imogen Heap, and released the baroque pop album The Dollhouse with violinist/string arranger Anne Marie Kirby, who once again links up with Cook for the new release. The time between his outstanding 2012 solo debut and Adventures In Ausland, saw Reverse Engineering, Vol. One unveiled, a covers release revealing rich inspirations to the life and music of the musician with classic tracks interpreted and regenerated in his own inventive image. It was a thrilling insight into the man as well as simply an exciting encounter but it is his own work which gets the fires flaming brightly as proven again by the new album.
Two years in the making, with songs written in the likes of Los Angeles, Buenos Aires, Montevideo and Genova whilst its recordings took place in Vienna, Prague, Berlin and London, Adventures In Ausland (Ausland the German word for abroad or elsewhere) brings in many ways an international breath to its still distinctly English sound. Certainly lyrically the album sizes up the world and its light and dark aspects whilst wrapped in an evolving invention which you feel can only come from the imagination of an Englishman. The release opens with the delicious Bees In November; its opening sigh of strings arranged by Cook and Kirby, an immediately evocative caress. They soon make way for a warm electronic and guitar enticing subsequently followed by a soft blaze of vibrant brass, all infesting ears and imagination with a sultry glow and vivacious temptation. The beats conjured by Tom Marsh add potent bait to the mix but it is the distinct voice of Cook and the continuing masterful call of the strings which steals the passions most forcibly. Both bring emotive intrigue and unpredictability to their invitations, lures sparking excitingly in thoughts and emotions, as well as the captivating body of the pop fuelled song.
The opener is swiftly matched by the following Lilly (A Lover’s Dream), a song which glides resourcefully through ears with melodic elegance and passionate reflection coloured by the mouth-watering weave of strings. There is an element of The Divine Comedy and The Bluebells to the song, a spicing which flavours the light footed melodic waltz of the song. As mesmeric in charm and sound as it is sultry in ambience, the song is a glorious embrace with an air which transports thoughts into unique scenery as does the next up Financial Tango. There is a Morricone flame to the opening climate of the track, though soon making way for the punchy stride of the song and its thought jabbing narrative. That scorched flame of brass does reoccur across the pungent premise and body of the track frequently, stirring up senses and imagination as potently as the striking enterprise around it.
Both Dog Arms & Dilemmas and Art Deco, keep the flight of the album boldly varied and gripping, the first with its gentle wash of vocals and melodic enterprise soaked in a provocative heat of brass. Vocals layers lie slightly misaligned to each other at times for a pleasing ingenious and addictive tempting whilst the entanglement of strings and brass powerfully ignites air and ears with voracious passion. It is a smouldering treat of a proposition but one admittedly soon left looking a little pale by its successor. The fifth track feels the closest to the last album, its dance of sawing strings and quirky synth adventure within agitated rhythms and another great vocal call from Cook, a bridge between the two albums whilst pushing its smart pop sound to new levels. Broad hints of Thomas Dolby and XTC tease at thoughts as well as essences of David Bowie as the song flirts and seduces the imagination and emotions. It is a riveting and scintillating encounter which leaves an already greedy appetite hungrier.
Bring Back The Boom offers a keys led stroll with a landscape of brass and lyrical incitement next, its atmospherically musty tone and shadowed premise an enthralling encounter, if lacking the spark of earlier songs slightly. It still leaves album and pleasure high as does the absorbing melancholic presence of The Blackout and the mischievous romp of Jamie with its swipe at misguided dreams and modern pop attitudes. The pair of songs again easily pushes thoughts into action whilst leaving ears basking in weaves of strings, brass, and melodies bred with a grandeur that only pure adult pop can conjure.
The wonderful call of Tideland with Cook at his most vocally potent on the album within a suggestive net of coaxing hooks and emotionally shadowed keys, comes next to bewitch senses and feelings. The rhythmic allurement of Marsh and the commanding strumming of Cook only accentuate the power of the majestic and increasingly towering track but it is the strings and vocals which drives the lingering tapestry of sound and imagination most potently. The impressive lure of the song is continued through closing track Ausland/Outside, a piece of beauty which envelopes and seduces ears with a thrilling maze of strings and vocals. It borders on disorientating at times but only to ignite the encounter and emotions to greater potency.
Adventures In Ausland is a very different album to its predecessor creating an even more striking and masterful proposition of pop fuelled, imagination driven drama. If James Cook is still a secret to be discovered for you, than this release is an introduction which can only lead to lustful pleasure.
Adventures In Ausland is available now @ http://jamescook.bandcamp.com/album/adventures-in-ausland
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