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The Left Outsides
Are You Sure I Was There? Julian Marszalek , December 11th, 2020 09:33

Alison Cotton and Mark Nicholas return with renewed confidence, finds Julian Marszalek

For a year characterised by lockdown inertia, 2020 has proved to be somewhat fecund for The Left Outsides. Singer and multi-instrumentalist Alison Cotton released two solo albums in the shape of the Zener 08 live set and the haunting Only Darkness Now, while the band’s 2019 live album, A Place To Hide finally became an artefact for those with a penchant for vinyl. And that’s before we stop to consider the vinyl retrospective of their alma mater, The Eighteenth Day Of May.

Now comes the band’s fifth studio album, Are You Sure I Was There?. Using only the finest ingredients, including psychedelia, folk, freakbeat and ethereal drones, The Left Outsides have created a seamless and coherent statement. This is no mean feat, not least as the vocal duties are split between Cotton and her singing, multi-instrumentalist partner, Mark Nicholas. What could have been a jarring experience is instead beguiling, mystical, and totally rewarding.

From Mark Nicholas’s opening and strident guitar chords on ‘The Wind No Longer Stirs The Tree’, it becomes immediately apparent that The Left Outsides are going to be stepping beyond their bucolic comfort zone. For sure, the wind swept and twilit quality that defined so much of their previous work is present and correct throughout, but there’s a steely determination that underpins this collection. The sound is wider and more confident with an immediacy that’s both familiar and new.

Indeed, seasoned followers will already be acquainted with ‘My Reflection, Once Was Me’. Having opened A Place To Hide, it here transcends its minimal and eldritch origins to become punctuated by a vociferous guitar that beats like a hammer shaping a horseshoe. Whereas the live incarnation revolved around Cotton’s ethereal harmonium, here the increased presence of Nicholas’s guitar displays a greater fusion of the band’s individual talents and instrumentation.

What’s also apparent is the album’s melodicism. ‘A Face In The Crowd’ finds Cotton and Nicholas sharing the vocals on a song that increases in intensity while never sacrificing its accessibility. Best of all is ‘The Stone Barn’, a track that sees The Left Outsides bringing together all of their core strengths to create an instant classic that deserves the widest audience possible.

Their finest work to date, Are You Sure I Was There is as much an album for the here and now as it is for the years to come. Be sure that you’re there.