I’m trying to take my trusty old Nikon F3 with me to as many places as I can again, so that I put my grandparents’ lovely gift to good use. Namely, twenty slick new rolls of my favourite Ilford HP5 black and white film in 400. I think I’ll ask for 800 or even 1600 next time, because I’ve been really missing some good old grain. But the photos which I would like to accompany this post are unfortunately sitting in a roll of undeveloped film next to my tea mug, so it may be months before I have anything to show.
Not wanting to take a biased view, but it’s barely September and my friend’s band, Artisan Guns, have released one of my favourite albums of the year already. I hadn’t been the most active friend as of late, so apart from a tiny sneak preview, I had no idea what to expect when Jonathan and I sat down over a hearty meal from Burger Wisconsin and listened to the album from start to finish. Cutting to the chase, Coral is simply so solidly fantastic that I knew most of the lyrics by their album release gig two Fridays ago (at which some of the aforementioned photos were taken).
From the very first listen, “So You Know” has been my favourite track, and I’m guilty of doing that awful thing where people put a song on repeat because they can’t get over the fact that every song must inevitably end. Considering the fact that it clocks in at under three minutes, I think hitting ‘previous track’ repeatedly is wholly justified; especially once you’ve fallen for the slide guitar intro. Did I mention the subtle overlap of vocal entries? One of the (many) standout components of this band is that not only can Matt, the frontman really sing, so too can Reuben, and sometimes the lads on guitar (Jonathan) and drums (Alex) also chip in on the background vocals in an instrumental-colour sort of way. The ensuing outcome is an album that’s been fine-tuned to sound so… precise.
Whilst I favour certain songs over others, there are definitely none that I skip over when I listen to the album — which is indeed a bad habit of mine, but I’d like to justify it as being reflective of the quality of music at stake. These guys are skilful at crafting bridges that are musically realised in a way which makes the musician in me smile. Often I feel like they successfully avoid what I’d call the “easy” or “obvious” choices for a bridge, yet the transitions out of choruses have been tackled so well that I can’t fathom any alternatives. There is no room left for any wishful thinking by the listener such as, “great song, now if only they had…”, and the like.
One of the other main things that stuck out to me about the album was the strange mood of the “season” which it evoked for me. I’d said to Jonathan at the time that it’s like a really nostalgic-sounding summer, because it didn’t sound sunny or summery. As if it were almost autumn but not quite — and we went on to chortle about how crap the past couple of New Zealand summers have been, as he pointed out, like the opening song — “Rain in Summer”. More to the point, it truly makes me happy that a friend that I’ve always musically looked up to has been a part of producing something that brings me — and I’m sure many others — great joy and comfort. Even in the sadness-tinged corners of this album, there are glimpses of a contented hopefulness that is a rare find.
And the most important thing of all, you can listen to the album on their page here, and please do share any thoughts if you do! I’ve already stuck this album under the nose of people in Seattle, New York, Malibu, Taipei and Abu Dhabi. So perhaps I am a rather biased friend-and-fan but who cares, I’m supposed to know what I’m talking about! Also, I believe that anyone who has the high-quality files will be able to experience the same tape hiss as I did, on selected tracks. Retro-magic.