Reviewed by Jack Derricourt
The folk community has a scary friend in Mark Alexander McIntyre. The atmosphere at large on Grapes, the newest release from this Victoria artist, is bleak. Dying suns and screaming children stock the sides of the record, making for a captivating trip into the heart of a wintry darkness. You can feel the blood drain out of the cheeks of each track as it struggles along.
Songs of lost family, love, youth, and the threat of war occupy the full length. But rather than find a sweet spot in terms of production, and stick with a reliable sound, the album restlessly experiments with a wide array of recording approaches. The record is a catalogue of mournful music, rather than the same sad sound replicated ten times.
There is an assortment quiet man-alone-with-guitar-in-the-wilderness numbers present. “Life of Bad Luck” is about as straight-ahead folk as you can get: vocals, five strings, and a narrative of mortal reckoning. Any fan of the murder ballads on the Anthology of American Folk Music will find a lot to like on Grapes.
Chair squeaks start “Dying Sun,” before the track cascades into a full band performance, showing the range of instrumentation present on the album. Monotone vocals bely the tumult of the song’s title, hushing the sense of catastrophic destruction to a buzzed whisper.
“A Birth A Death The Dark The Light,” a disturbing sound collage, is injected between the album’s lighter, stripped-down first half and the relatively noisy second portion. At little over a minute, the calamitous bass throbbings and baby wailings create a deep ravine between the sonic continents of the record.
The real thrill comes at the very end. “Tell Me” is a Johnny Cash stomper of a full-band track. It’s a perfect closer. The song pleads with the listener, imploring the ears and minds of those who have heard the last half an hour’s worth of isolation and despair. That is the guiding light that makes Grapes shine: the record invites you in to share the gloom and then find a way out together through shared expression.
Top Tracks: “Tell Me” ; “Dying Sun”
Rating: Proud Hoot (Really good)