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David Gray - Gold In A Brass Age (Review)

David Gray, Gold In A Brass Age

Review by Jack Foley

IndieLondon Rating: 3 out of 5

GOLD In A Brass Age marks David Gray’s first album of new material in four years – and it’s mostly worth the wait.

Produced by Ben de Vries, son of composer and producer Marius de Vries, the album finds the pair embarking on a cut-and-paste approach to Gray’s songwriting, with the result emerging as an exploration of the destructive and regenerative nature of his adopted hometown of London and his fascination with the resilience of the natural world.

Explains Gray: “With this album, I was keen to get away from narrative. Instead of writing melodies, I looked for phrases with a natural cadence, so that the rhythm began with the words. I reimagined where a song might spring from and what form it could take.”

The result is an intriguing listen that finds the singer-songwriter on both familiar form, as well as pushing himself in new directions.

The earnest balladry for which he is famous for with past tracks such as Sail Away and Babylon is evident on songs such as Hurricane Season (a piano based observation of our changing climate that could just as easily serve as a metaphor for the singer’s emotional journey), and the beautiful Watching The Waves.

The latter song, in particular, taps into the imagery that has long defined Gray’s songwriting. But it arrives amid lovely piano and acoustic guitar arrangements, and a hushed vocal that is shot through with a certain sorrow. The fact that Gray refrains from any verbal highs provides evidence of a more refined approach that works every bit as successfully for him as earlier, more pronounced efforts.

If those tracks mark the singer at his quietest and most reflective, then there are also places where Gray ups the tempo to crowd-pleasing effect.

If 8 Were 9 is one such example of this, described by Gray himself as “probably the craziest song I’ve ever recorded”. There’s fluttering piano, layers of guitar, loads of synths and a generally brighter vibe to it.

“It’s a sweet one to sing,” he adds, “especially the line ‘My heart leans out like these old river trees’.”

Similarly, album opener and former single The Sapling, a lively rumination on the cyclical brevity of life and ecology. It includes stabs of brass, bouncy electronics and slick beats, while employing a more soulful, funky vocal from Gray. He’s clearly having fun with this track and that translates to the listener.

A Tight Ship, another former single, also sets a lively pace, with sunshine melodies, slick electronics and a breezy vocal helping to lift the album.

Elsewhere, Furthering is awash with the use of vocoder and autotune, while there’s layered falsetto on Ridiculous Heart that’s designed, in part, to summon the spectre of Prince – further evidence of how Gray is pushing himself vocally.

Admittedly, some of the lower key tracks could do with an injection of pace. Gold In A Brass Age, the title track, and Furthering are both examples of this, no matter how much instrumental invention they employ. There’s a case for arguing that there’s too much subtlety at times, especially when contrasted against the album’s bolder moments.

But in the main, Gold In A Brass Age marks a welcome, often beautiful, return for Gray.

Download picks: The Sapling, Hall of Mirrors, Watching The Waves, Ridiculous Heart, A Tight Ship

Track listing:

  1. The Sapling
  2. Gold In A Brass Age
  3. Furthering
  4. Ridiculous Heart
  5. It’s Late
  6. A Tight Ship
  7. Watching The Waves
  8. Hall of Mirrors
  9. Hurricane Season
  10. Mallory
  11. If 8 Were 9