The co-founder of seminal bands Microdisney and one of our all-time favourites The Fatima Mansions, Cathal Coughlan has been an artist and songwriter who has and never will tick the boxes of convention and predictability. Though praise and acclaim has certainly surrounded the London-based Irish-born individualist we would suggest the depth of his inspiration on others has been underestimated certainly understated. From those early adventures through his solo career, lyrically Coughlan is an artist and protagonist like few others. His words make you stand still, think and react; every syllable woven against sounds which have been just as potent in their intimation and imagination. The recent release of Song Of Co-Aklan, his sixth solo album and the first in ten years, provides all the proof and confirmation of our suggestion you might need, the release a cathartic spark for the mind and contagion for the senses.
Song Of Co-Aklan sees Coughlan drawing on the craft of long-time collaborators from the Grand Necropolitan Quartet in drummer Nick Allum (The Fatima Mansions, The Apartments), guitarist James Woodrow and cellist Audrey Riley and also reunite with old friends such as Sean O’Hagan (Microdisney, The High Llamas, Stereolab), Luke Haines (The Auteurs, Black Box Recorder), Jonathan Fell (Microdisney, High Llamas), Rhodri Marsden (Scritti Politti) and other notable musicians.
The album’s emotive artwork provided an immediate intrigue which its title track instantly fed upon, the opener strolling in with the thick lure of bass and crisp coaxing of beats accompanying Coughlan’s ever distinct and compelling tones. As keys wrap their warmth around that core temptation, a delicious hook works its way under the skin, virulence coating every aspect of the indie rock persuasion. That infection equally applies to the track’s lyrics, Coughlan weaving imagery and intimation as poetic as it is an evocative trespass to compel even deeper focus, one in turn only further escalated by the gripping twists and turns which spring forth.
A darker cloud is brought by the following Passed Out Dog, its body language and breath irritable yet equipped with melodic tempting that effortlessly captivates. The song is pure drama with an emerging mercurial character that just beguiled while My Child Is Alive! with its own unique theatre merges a provocative croon with catchiness just as thick in drama and creative theatre.
All three simply hooked ears and imagination but still found themselves eclipsed by the outstanding Crow Mother. With an air not that far removed from a David Lynch creation and a tenebrific infectiousness which burrowed deep, the stunning track simply epitomises the striking and never diminishing ingenuity of Coughlan as musician, wordsmith and narrator of implication fuelled tales.
Both next up St Wellbeing Axe and successor Owl In The Parlour also gripped attention like few other encounters this year, the first an almost rapacious stroll with a clamorous scent to its unpredictable and heady incitement, the second offering a theatre of sound and enterprise which had the body swaying in unison to the song’s own manoeuvres and ears swiftly a greedy slave. Crepuscular in its light, noir shaded in its breath, the track is a sublime piece of temptation continuing the viral persuasion of the album with almost cinematic elegance.
Similarly Let’s Flood The Fairground sparks a vision in the imagination even before Coughlan shares his dextrous writing, it a collusion of shadows and spirit raising light upon a canvas of revelry welcoming inauspicious experiences while The Lobster’s Dream casts ears into a realm of aligned fantasy and reality, one spun with orchestral nurtured charm and carnival spiced beauty.
Through the similarly but more shadowed folkish air of The Copper Beech and the animated shuffle of The Knockout Artist, the album continued to surprise and broaden its temptation, the latter of the two an eighties pop teased offering with a Paul Haig like factiousness to its amble with Falling Out North St. instantly after providing a sultry romance of sound in a melancholy enriched and at times eagerly sprightly ballad.
All three only engaged with inescapable pleasure before Unrealtime bought the album to an enthralling close with its own particular evocative charm and lyrical weave, a Colin Vearncombe (Black) resembling intimacy in sound and nature only adding to its seduction and increasingly unique drama.
Though the likes of Nick Cave, Scott Walker and The National are offered as hints to the temptation of Cathal Coughlan, there is and has never been anyone like him or anything close to the uniqueness of his music and thus nothing as striking and, in particularly startling ways, as inspiring as Song Of Co Aklan, easily one of the year’s richest pleasures so far.
Song of Co-Aklan is out now via Dimple Discs across most online platforms.
Pete RingMaster 25/05/2021
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