Grasscut – Unearth (Review)
Review by Jack Foley
IF GRASSCUT’S debut album established him as one of the most highly regarded electronic artists of the moment, then his follow-up, Unearth, tips him more into song territory and widens his appeal.
It’s a deliberately more vocal record with contributions from Robert Wyatt and Gazelle Twin, as well as main vocals from Grasscut composer, producer and multi-instrumentalist Andrew Phillips. Oh, and there’s also Marcus O’Dair on double bass and Seb Rochford, of Polar Bear, on guest drums.
To further enhance this album’s distinct identity, the emphasis on place and location is very much to the fore as Phillips explores the physicality of the world around us and how we represent that physicality through stories, poems, maps, myths and music.
Album opener Cut Grass, for instance, was inspired by the Philip Larkin poem of the same name and written after a visit to Spurn Head, near Hull.
Recent single and album highlight Pieces, meanwhile, is set at a literal road to nowhere: namely, an unfinished flyover in the outer reaches of east London. It’s classical minimalism meets post-rave Penguin Cafe Orchestra and it’s exhilarating.
The electronic sounds run a rapid dance with the piano arrangements, there’s an insistent hook and some spaced out vocals, while slick beats propel the track forward. It’s a heady, thrilling combination.
Later on, Reservoir offers a self-consciously moody, or even unsettling, string epic about a drowned village located at Lake Vyrnwy in Wales. It’s evocatively delivered with Phillips’ vocals veering between hushed and falsetto.
Gazelle Twin feature on A Mysterious Disappearance, which combines electronic beats and 1920s lounge jazz, and which recounts Agatha Christie’s flight from fame to a hotel in Harrogate.
But better still, Lights, dazzles with a cacophony of strings, pianos and vocals that swirl beautifully and melodically into a head-rush high… it was inspired by the 4.6 million shells of Margate’s backstreet Shell Grotto.
And We Fold Ourselves, another favourite, offers a compelling, similarly beautiful cyber duet between Philips and 1950s contralto Kathleen Ferrier, having been inspired by Surrey’s ghostly Silent Pool, haunt of Alfred, Lord Tennyson. It’s quite unlike anything else you’ll hear this year and strangely enchanting.
Robert Wyatt, meanwhile, guests on the stripped back album closer, Richardson Road, supplying backing vocals, pianos and cornet for a satisfying finale.
Grasscut’s sophomore session is therefore as intelligent as it is often inspiring. It’s a personal triumph for Phillips that looks set to win him even more fans and admirers.
Download picks: Pieces, Reservoir, Lights, We Fold Ourselves