CD Review: Tom Slatter – Demon

digipak6Panel1Disc-Centre.aiThis sixth solo album from respected singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Tom Slatter, released in July 2019, follows his acclaimed Happy People album and the Murder and Parliament instrumental project. This time it’s personal and heavily influenced by indie rock albums of the mid 90’s. There are contributions from ‘Storm’ Gareth Cole, drummer Michael Cairns, Tom’s sister Rebecca Haynes on bassoon and The Barley Singers. 

But let’s get the (bad) elephant out of the room. Tom has a marmite voice. I mean, some will like it, others won’t. There. I’ve said it. My first impression on hearing ‘Wizards of this Town’ was Robert Wyatt meets Martin Wilson (Grey Lady Down). Pitch is relative. He’s verbose. He’s down to earth. His ‘sing in a speaking voice’ vocals suit his storytelling style. A public school John Dexter Jones (Jump). Nuff said. Switch off now if he’s not your cuppa. The aforementioned opening song itself has very interesting jazzy guitar riffing in the verses but a slightly different tempo and quite indie chorus. In fact there are lots of interesting guitar parts buried throughout this album, and tempo changes and clever rhythms are also a common theme. The lengthier ‘Modern World’ has those very tempo and style changes, with an ambient section five minutes in that I am sure features wine glass rimming, as well as more good guitar work. Despite the electrification and use of standard rock instruments, Slatter can somehow give off a slightly folky feel, in part due to his vocal melodies and vocal style.

Moving on, ‘Weather Balloons and Falling Stars’ has a nice heavy indie guitar verse and catchy chorus, the latter half of the song more reflective. ‘West Wind’ is quite commercial sounding, a slightly symphonic synth and melodic guitar supporting Slatter’s straight vocals. But, just to maintain the independent streak, Slatter then goes all Bob Lazar (see forthcoming review!) with a 40odd second odd interlude that reappears in a slightly different format later. ‘Patterns of Light’ is thoughtful, acoustic guitar, understated keys and pleasant chorus harmonies offset by interesting deep woodwind lines used to offer a purposeful yet feint dischord. The Mike Sammes Singers and modern choral works are evoked in ‘Cutting Up All of Our Dreams’, albeit Tom’s unique vocals can jar. Gentle Giant or Spocks Beard the vocal interplay isn’t, but there is an odd charm until that quirky interlude phrasing resurfaces. ‘Drop Dead’s Punching Above His Weight Again’ displays all the best elements of Slatter’s songwriting and structuring, that guitar is again worthy of mention, especially the dual track guitar soloing. Heavier, ‘Tinfoil King’ is almost triple personality, a clever 7/4 verse before a steampunk chorus, and then a quasi-epic-sounding power ballad ending. Veering off at unexpected tangents, closing track ‘Demon’ has a jolly but frantic edge.

According to Tom: “Demon developed from an idea I had into a record about my life, without having any personal lyrics. It’s more a collection of songs rather than having a concept like Happy People”. So, a loose concept of impersonal personal songs, and what you have is someone punching above their weight here. Seemingly amateurish vocals which actually suit an eclectic style that takes prog history and gives it an indie battering. Good variety of dynamics, thoughtful stylistic touches and involved lyrics pique the interest. And don’t forget the guitars – one of many things which give it a depth, initially unnoticed, that draws the listener into the mad world of Tom Slatter.

Track Listing:

  1. Wizards Of This Town 
  2. Modern World 
  3. Weather Balloons And Falling Stars 
  4. West Wind 
  5. Patterns Of Light 
  6. Cutting Up All Of Our Dreams 
  7. Drop Dead’s Punching Above His Weight 
  8. Tinfoil King 
  9. Demon   

All music composed, recorded and performed by Tom Slatter at The Nightmare Shed. Except: Cutting Up All Of Our Dreams By Tom Slatter and Pam Slatter 

 Drums by Michael Cairns 

Lead guitar on Drop Dead’s Punching Above His Weight Again by Gareth Cole. 

Bassoon by Rebecca Haynes 

Additional vocals on Cutting Up All Of Our Dreams by The Barley Singers: Rebecca Haynes, Rachel Slatter, Evelina Hepp, Elizabeth Murtagh, Frances Reynolds, Maria Ramos, Josie Christian, Terry Visram, Chrina Jarvis 

 Mastered by David Elliott at The Landing for Bad Elephant Music

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