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Jim Johnston
After All The Wishing Jim Fry , March 24th, 2015 12:32

Imagine a pop group that was every outsider band's outsider band. A group that strayed way beyond pop logic with sheer melodic sensibility, helplessly crossing the line into psychic madness. A group that seem to reject the recreational trendy drugs so fashionable in the post baggy world of 1998, in favour of mental illness and its bastard cousin medication. This was the real deal. The windmill of the mind. This was Monk & Canatella. For the chosen few they were the ultimate. If you were born into the No New York of the late 70s, Arto Lindsay's DNA, James White and The Blacks, M & C were a natural progression, a band made up of splintered edges and outstanding natural beauty.

Like The Pop Group, they heralded from Bristol. They took the contemporary musical landscape and reflected it with dirty distorted mirrors; a real Pop Group, crafting a sound based on loops and beats, and stolen sound. Monk & Canatella captured the city's great historic musical landscape and threw it back at them. Artwork would depict happy families basking in evening sunshine hand in hand. Jeff Koons' prototype plastic theme park creatures, 20% cuddly 80% hell on earth. (An early collaboration with someone called Banksy apparently).

Singer James Jonhston's style was an unlikely complement to the M&C sound, a breathless soft spoken tone derived from a literary new romantic (in the real sense), dark works and mundainity combined to create a soundtrack to dysphonia in the dislocated home. While the M&C sound eventually disintegrated, leaving earth for some other distant world, its debris would crash down years later somewhere near 21st century Swindon as a new format of cosmic energy. 2015 finds Jim Johnston reconditioned, his search and discovery of and bigger wider sound in place, going out for a walk and watering all those plants has paid off after all.

This record jumps to life with Barrow, referencing the now disused mental hospital on the edge of town, where Avonmouth's lost and overdosed and overdrunk would recuperate and reignite. A modern-day successor to Scary Monsters, Jim gently sings along calling out into the empty night, casually rolling his soft southern 'R's': "I'll take just a pound to let me take me home for the night".

Next, 'Buried In The Woods': enter centre stage: Damien Moran, an auspicious guide across this evil pop landscape. James met Damien on the streets of Stokes Croft, north of Bristol city centre, "he was talking to his dog Scampmaloney". They became friends and as a result Moran heard the demos and returned with vast webs of warm fragmented poetry that litters the spaces between the tracks of this album. He brings a genuine theatrical element to the proceedings his words cut up and broken amongst the reverb and decay.

'Buried In The Woods' is voodoo rhythm, unpredictable and jazzy, easy listening for the interred, it bleeds into 'Officer Paranoid', a brutalised Northern Soul Stomp. 'My Schizoid Fairy Tale' drives the intrigue deeper, and not just because the Pop Group's very own Mark Stewart screeches across the mid-break, but because of the song's tension. This vocalist gesture however, does cement a mutual relationship with all that is special about Bristol's musical history. Others join Jim on the journey, Chris Tomas and James Eller deliver rhythm, while Craig Crofton's anti saxophone somehow lands in all the right places.   'After All The Wishing' feels like it's been entombed and then dug up on the local druid burial ground by the ugly new houses. 'Dark Gargle', with Damien's breathless words swathed in echo, forges a bridge to 'Naked'. Saxaphone bleats out, sharing its moment with a guitar break Crazyhorse would be proud of. 'Through You Like A Storm', with the lyrics, "I hit you with my pool cue as I watch you die", is the darkest bitterest peak on the record, though never the less delivered with magnetic pop sensibility. The pace changes with 'Scotties Somber Heaven' and it's with these closing tracks that Jim and Damien almost morph into one singular conjoined twin, the sax supplying the life blood.   Ultimately, After All The Wishing is a tale of discovery, through the heart of darkness and out the other end. Jim plays host and curator, Damien's the narrator. This is an accomplished album, these songs sound as if they were born out of jamming though the night, beautifully executed, but never wandering into "muso" territory. Everything across the sonic spectrum has a purpose, and you can only imagine how spectacular this would be live.