One More Grain

Grain Fever

You hear that mad drunkard at the bar? He may not be mad, or even drunk, after all. He sounds edgy and he’s clearly unpredictable: "Just because I live in a remote part of the United Kingdom," he snarls, out of nowhere, then immediately, worryingly: "I have some things I’d like to explain over a glass of wine." But the voice is thoroughly lucid at the same time. It’s a bit like Mark Stewart or an English – Northern – Aidan Moffat or Nick Cave or Shane McGowan. Most of all, it’s like a less curmudgeonly Mark E. Smith. On the foot-stomping opener, actually called ‘Leg Stomper’, he’s ranting over a kind of kosmische folk, but as the album unfolds, the music moves through drones and throbs and clatters, until any attempt to root in genre seems absurd. The vocalist, for his part, becomes less abrasive, sometimes even melodic, but never loses that edge.

This is One More Grain – and they rival Scott Walker as the closest thing to post-Swordfishtrombones Tom Waits on this side of the Atlantic, without sounding remotely like a pastiche. They released two albums – Pigeon English in 2007, and 2008’s Isle Of Grain – then disappeared. Andrew Blick worked as an academic and fronted the remarkable Gyratory System. (A review on this site compared their 2009 album The Sound-board Breathes to Battles, Holy Fuck, Nisennenmondai, Pigbag, Barry Adamson, Orbital, A Certain Ratio, Cornelius Cardew and Miles Davis’ On The Corner. Subsequent albums have drawn comparisons to Steve Reich, 23 Skidoo, Aphex Twin, the Radiophonic Workshop, Fela Kuti and Orbital. You get the idea.) Daniel Patrick Quinn, meanwhile, moved to Indonesia to teach English and write about volcanoes.

Now Quinn is back, living in the Outer Hebrides. One More Grain are back too, and they’re as odd and brilliant as ever. Just look at the credits: Andrew Blick is credited with ‘insects’ as well as trumpet and electronics, while Daniel Patrick Quinn contributes ‘microwave’ as well as voice, violin, guitars, harmonica and percussion. Grain Fever was recorded in a cottage near Stornoway airport in the Outer Hebrides, as well as in Blick’s hometown of London. The bass drum sound was created, we are told, by Quinn punching the walls of his cottage. There is not a single chord change on the whole album. The droning effect calls to mind The Velvet Underground, although the record sounds nothing like them, just as it sounds nothing like Can or The Fall or Pere Ubu or the Incredible String Band, though there are moments when I’m reminded of each. The vocal on The Meteor Impact Site is reminiscent of Brian Eno, elsewhere of a male Nico, but it’s hard to imagine either of them hollering, apropos of nothing: "My name is Worzel Gummidge, long live the new peasant."

In a parallel world, One More Grain are Mercury winners; they were once supported by The xx. And as individuals they continue to have success of a kind. When not investigating the constitutional future of the UK and the contemporary significance of the Magna Carta, Blick works with Simon Fisher Turner (he played on last year’s Ivor Novello-winning soundtrack to The Epic Of Everest) and David Gedge of The Wedding Present. Quinn has released solo work, including Ridin’ The Stang, released before he founded One More Grain, and last year’s Acting The Rubber Pig.

As a duo, however, their greatest triumphs to date have been the endorsement of Stewart Lee, comedian and fan of free jazz and The Fall, and the fact that Isle Of Grain made this website’s Reductive & Subjective Albums Of The Year List in 2008. "How many more times will I say, you know, maybe this next album will be a genuine success?" asks Quinn, rhetorically, on ‘The Scent Of Gorse Flowers’, the album’s penultimate track. It is just possible that Grain Fever will be that "genuine success", although almost certain that it won’t (and who knows what genuine success looks like anyway?). It’s a moment of something approaching poignancy. But then Quinn is off again: "How many days spent wondering round the Tate gallery? Just how many heartbeats do I actually have, you know, before I end up on my deathbed?" And like the mad drunkard at the bar, you try not to meet his eye.

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