My dear old Dad was a bit of a dab hand with a saw in his day. Many is the time, fresh from ripping through a length of lamb’s tongue or ogee, that he would sit himself down on the toolbox he made as an apprentice, clamp his saw beneath his knees, and coax forth otherworldly sounds without the luxury of a bow (which were in relatively short supply in the joiners’ shops of the ‘70s and ‘80s.)
I’ve been a sucker for non-instruments ever since, from Thomas Truax’s wonderful machines to Martin Stephenson’s call to ‘play that knee!’ There’s a whole world of musical tools, appliances, cutlery, crockery, glassware, vases, radiators etc. out there as Pink Floyd notoriously discovered when, uncertain how to follow Dark Side of the Moon, the band took to recording food mixers, brushes, rubber bands and light bulbs. Eventually (and probably inevitably) the project was abandoned.
I come from a fairly musical family in which I’m the exception rather than the rule, however even I was recently tempted to take up a ‘musical instrument’ again. Inspired by Charlotte Marionneau, High Flying Birds’ scissor player extraordinaire, I picked a pair of yellow-handled ambidextrous Ikea snippers and accompanied some of my favourite tunes as if no-one was watching. Thankfully, no-one was watching, but I felt a sense of accomplishment not experienced since I was cruelly ejected from the school brass band for denting my trombone (not a euphemism.) The point here, and you could be excused for not spotting it, is that there’s more to music than guitar, bass and drums.
Hayley Ross has crafted (and I use the word deliberately) a new album, The Weight of Hope, using a mixture of instruments and non-instruments, it’s layered and textural and it presents something new with each listen. An album that adapts to its surroundings, it sounds great everywhere, but it also somehow sounds different everywhere, and like most of the best music, it doesn’t fit neatly into any category. Helped in no small measure by Hayley’s bitter/sweet voice, The Weight of Hope sails gracefully through mainly watery themes. You can drop your needle anywhere and be overwhelmed by atmospheric beauty, because this album has it by the galvanised bucket-load, from the hypnotic ‘Come Back’ to the effortless and glorious ‘Barracuda’. And where many deeply atmospheric albums struggle with impenetrability issues, The Weight of Hope remains accessible throughout. Check out the slow beauty of ‘Tumbledown’ if you can and you’ll see what I’m talking about.
Added to that, this album has something that less than 1% of albums have: a bona fide goose-bump inducer in the shape of ‘Lay Me Down’ a dark tale with choral backing and sirens (not that type of sirens) and an eerie, haunting saw break. At the risk of trivialising its beauty, ‘Lay Me Down’ will, without doubt, soon grace the closing scenes of the final episode of a big, classy, prime-time medical drama (not Casualty or Holby City by the way) where the patient (a child usually) will either die unexpectedly or survive unexpectedly and all the doctors and nurses who have been at daggers drawn since, in episode 7 of a 23 part season, one of them cheated on another one with another one, will shoot knowing looks at one another as if to say “those people who work in mundane office jobs have absolutely no idea what it’s like looking into someone’s heart/liver/brain and that’s why they make endless TV dramas about this and there are no TV dramas about accounting.”
Mixed by no less than John Leckie (with a track record stretching from McCartney, Lennon and Harrison via the aforementioned Pink Floyd to XTC, Simple Minds, The Stone Roses, Radiohead, Spiritualized and Muse) and recorded at the legendary Abbey Road studios, this is an album that continues to evolve and impress with every new listen.
Now, where did I put those scissors?