The Big Eyes Family Players: ‘Oh!'
Home Assembly Music

Broadcast fans still recovering from the band's premature end (due to the tragic death of Trish Keenan in 2011 from pneumonia) could ease their sorrow with The Big Eyes Family Players' latest collection, the group's first on Home Assembly. While the Sheffield-based quintet is no Broadcast clone, there's no denying the similarities between the groups' sounds; in fact, a couple of songs on ‘Oh!' are so sonically and melodically reminiscent of Broadcast, they could easily pass for unreleased material by the group. And further to that, the album finds The Big Eyes Family Players trafficking in a '60-styled psychedelic pop sound not unlike what Broadcast was doing on its later albums (that one song's titled “Pendulum” could even be taken for a direct nod, given that it's also the title of a 2003 Broadcast EP).

Issued on vinyl (250 copies) and penned by multi-instrumentalist James Green and vocalist Heather Ditch (drummer Guy Whitaker, bassist Sharron Kraus, and keyboard player James Street are the group's other members), the eleven-song set arrives three years since The Big Eyes Family Players' last album, Folk Songs II (Static Caravan), and six since a full album of original material. The songs are distinguished by no small amount of ear candy, with viola, bowed saw, and additional synths by Aby Vulliamy and Dean Honer adding to the outfit's rich mix of organs, synths, flutes, guitars, bass, and drums. It's a full-bodied and sometimes noisy sound that, thankfully, isn't so dense that it overpowers Ditch's vocalizing.

The album alternates between uptempo, high-energy material and winsome ballads. Instantiating the former, “The Blind Punch” charges at a breakneck pace, its high volume attack punctuated by a wailing instrumental break that calls to mind The Master Musicians of Jajouka's playing on Ornette Coleman's “Midnight Sunrise” (from the 1973 album Dancing In Your Head). Spotlighting the group's dramatic side is “Joyce,” which affectingly recounts the true story of Joyce Vincent, who was found dead in her London flat three years after she died with the TV still on and unopened Christmas presents around her.

As strong as such material is, the album's most affecting songs are ballads such as “Across the Waves,” “Reeves' Lament,” and “Song For Thirza” due to the intoxicating effect of Ditch's lovely voice, the melancholy potency of the songs' melodies, and the songs' arrangements. And don't be surprised if a tear comes to your eye when the stirring Lal Waterson cover, “Song For Thirza,” plays, especially when its lyrical content makes reference to a beloved canine (“Where are you now my precious running dog / Who ran after me in my growing years”). It's a hard heart indeed that could be unmoved by such a beautiful song.

March 2016