By this stage, symptoms RM Hubbert’s new album has been out for over a week – but it’s so good that I couldn’t let it pass without proper comment. Also, discount as I was supposed to be seeing the man himself live the day my back went, it seems only fitting that he features in my first piece back in action.
This review originally appeared on The Arts Desk.
The debates that come with music awards tend to be more interesting than the institutions themselves, which is why it was so novel to see this year’s SAY Award – the Creative Scotland-backed equivalent of the Mercury Prize – go to a work that was not only innovative but genuinely loved. Though it must have been tempting for RM Hubbert to take some time out and blow the prize money on a Porsche, the Glasgow guitarist – a 20-year veteran of the local music scene – announced his next album two weeks later.
Breaks & Bone is the final part of what Hubbert has termed “the ampersand trilogy”, a collection of albums on which the musician has explored and worked out depression, heartbreak and the deaths of his parents through flamenco guitar playing so intimate that you can hear the strings snap. After the more collaborative nature of the award-winning Thirteen Lost & Found, Breaks & Bone once again looks inward, although its final note of resolution on the gorgeously raw closing track, “Slights”, makes the listener feel more of a confidante than a voyeur.
Hubbert’s inspirations may come from the darkest of places, but his deft touch and clever use of melody tend to sweeten the blow. The affectionate, playful opener “Son of Princess, Brother of Rambo” (a tribute to Hubbert’s canine companion, D Bone, whose image adorns the album’s cover) could have snuck onto instrumental album First & Last as a kind of happy-ever-after, but simple stories are rarely told so beautifully. Conversely, the opening lines of “Bolt” – so startling and yet so cryptic in their violence, and the first words Hubbert has sung during this incarnation of his career – come like a sucker punch, an evocative baritone recounting a fading dream as producer Paul Savage lets a little muddy distortion creep into the mix.
“Feedback Loops” is at once one of the saddest and prettiest things Hubbert has ever written, while “Tongue Tied & Tone Deaf” evolves from brooding darkness to a bright, uplifting melody and shows that Hubbert can write lyrics as evocative as his fingerwork. “Dec 11” could almost be a love song, although you’ll laugh at the simplification as it approaches its frantic, perfect climax.
Also Actually this week: Friend of the blog – and Last Year’s Gig alumnus – Chris T-T releases a new album today and it’s a bit of a curveball, as it’s the first one billed with his new band Chris T-T and the Hoodrats. Although I haven’t heard it in its entirety yet what I have is pretty smashing. If this was a just world, you’d be reading a full review today, but in the meantime have a listen to title track “The Bear”.
Gig of the week: The Mountain Goats at The Arches, no question – although it’s sold out, as is the Chvrches double header at The Arches. Still, it’s a pretty decent week for gigs all told, so you can still catch the magnificent Emily Barker & the Red Clay Halo (supported by none other than Chris T-T!) at the Oran Mor on Sunday.