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Thirty Pounds of Bone
whence, the Tom Bolton , February 10th, 2021 09:07

As densely layered as its predecessor was sparse, the new album by Thirty Pounds of Bone may be a pandemic album without meaning to be, finds Tom Bolton

Johny Lamb, as Thirty Pounds of Bone, continues his exploration of recording techniques with his new album, whence, the. Last seen on 2019’s Still Every Year They Went, a stark experiment in returning sea shanties to their origins, recorded aboard a Falmouth trawler, Lamb has returned to the studio, where an interior world awaits, as wide as any seascape. whence, the is deliberately recorded in a way that cannot be recreated live, using layers of analogue synth sounds to generate an atmosphere that is deep, rich, and heavy. His soft, clear vocals, in contrast, float.

The album’s title brings to mind, at least for me, the hymn ‘Guide Me, Oh Thou Great Redeemer’, and the verse that begins “Open now the crystal fountain / whence the healing stream doth flow”. The hint of distant hope perhaps implied is welcome, as the nine songs on the album are an unapologetic exploration of sadness and death. Whether directly or not, this is a pandemic album and it faces the darkness head on. Much of the response to interminable lockdowns has been in the form of bracing advice – ‘56 ways to keep active at home’, and so on – but Lamb’s record is all about the hard realities. ‘A Story of Long’ circles around observing a friend close to death in a care home. Its vision of something extraordinary taking place in a thoroughly ordinary place is stark and heart-breaking. The small gesture of offering a glass of water to a dying man is the springboard for the album, which picks up on tiny moments containing everything that matters.

It is as though the mournful folk songs of Still Every Year They Went have infected the indie songs Lamb writes on whence, the. ‘But Sad’ has the melodic gallop of a Teenage Fanclub song, but ‘The Concept’ this ain’t. ‘The Cynical Start to a Jaded Career’, with a crunchy synth sound of a film soundtracked behind the Iron Curtain, dispels illusions about the music business. ‘A Note to Myself’ is about the final weekend of a relationship. The final track, ‘Woodchip’, filters disappointment through wallpaper removal. The songs take a hard look at difficult emotions, and expose for scrutiny something that we are all dealing with as we seek to inhabit our shrunken worlds and understand how we can deal with pent up feelings while managing to exist. whence, the is an album of songs for our time, holding out the faint but persistent hope that colour will return to our lives, and we will be able to tear ourselves away from the details that swim disconcertingly into focus as we gaze around us.