“I remember the German word for calculator/But I forget that I’m precious.”
Behind window 9 of the Musical Advent lounges an album released on April Fool’s Day. It contains a track entitled Who Is A Fool. When I heard the first two singles – Don’t Forget You’re Precious and I’m Good At Not Crying – I thought Alabaster DePlume was something a novelty act. Don’t misunderstand me, I loved both of those tracks so much that I played them both, more than once, on my Louder Than War Dark Flux Radio Show (now defunct, but still available to catch up with on Mixcloud).
Those singles were like nothing else that I have heard this year. The former is simultaneously comedic and motivational and, to this day, I’m still unsure what DePlume was intending. Musically, the latter sounds like it has fallen out of the soundtrack for South Pacific, a backdrop that DePlume uses to reassure us that he is good at not making a scene. However, we are skirting on the surface if we are to base our assessment of Alabaster DePlume on those two track, for his album, Gold, is so, so much more.
This is an album that sprawls everywhere; permeating every nook and cranny of your consciousness until those words, those melodies, are dancing around inside your head. In a magnificent way. On first listen you will wonder what the hell is going on as it drifts and meanders, seemingly aimlessly. Give it another spin and it all clicks into place.
I wonder if that sprawling feel is created by the way in which Gold was recorded. Like the Binker and Moses album that sat behind window 8 of the Musical Advent, Gold was recorded largely by improvisation. There were few rehearsals, even fewer scores. DePlume and the musicians were allowed to (largely) go where the music took them, creating this very organic, fluid vibe. It’s an album that feels wholly spontaneous. Yet, somehow, somehow…it works. Perfectly.
DePlume’s vocal is style is the first thing that lands a punch. It is intimate, almost as though he is sitting on your shoulder whispering into your ear. He reminds me of Jarvis Cocker, both in terms of that style and the unconscious pathos that he brings. The latter is understandable. After all, he is a storyteller narrating what he sees. Look around, there’s not much that’s pretty to report on. DePlume is also something of a musical talent, with his melodic tenor sax playing a pivotal role in shaping the mood of these songs.
This intriguing, one-off of an album, has so many moments of brilliance. Like the hypnotic Again, featuring the spellbinding voice of the Guinean musician and singer, Falle Nioke. The preceding track, Now (Stars Are Lit) is equally good. This sorrowful tune sees DePlume’s gorgeous sax dancing with a strummed guitar motif. In the background, a voice (not DePlume) chants mournfully. As a combination, those two tracks provide Gold’s best seven minutes. Listen in and it will be the best seven minutes of your day too.
Fucking Let Them is another highlight. It opens with a spoken word diatribe from DePlume, delivered in front of a live audience who are lapping up every word. It drops out, to be replaced by DePlume’s visceral sax workout, reminiscent of Sons Of Kemet. Later in the album, on the penultimate track, we reprise the moment. Broken Like opens with DePlume’s sax picking up where it left off on Fucking Let Them. However, whilst the earlier track was a rousing call-to-arms, Broken Like is a world-weary resignation. Without getting all X-Factor, DePlume has been through a journey on Gold’s nineteen tracks and based upon the evidence provided by Broken Like, I’m not sure he has emerged unscathed.
An album like no other in 2022, Gold is a triumph. It is possibly the most unique album in this year’s Musical Advent (although I may change my mind when I get to window 14) and whilst it won’t cater for every mood or occasion, this ambitious, innovative collection deserves a place in every music lover’s collection.
Gold is no joke. No April Fool. This is precious. Don’t forget.