Danny Saul: Harsh, Final
White Box

Manchester-based singer-songwriter Danny Saul doesn't hedge his bets on his debut album Harsh, Final. The one-time member of rock outfit Tsuji Giri and current partner to Greg Haines in Liondialer opens the album with a bold twelve-minute set-piece (“Your Death”) that starts out as a bucolic acoustic guitar folk instrumental but then extends into experimental territory with acoustic and electric guitars melding into a blur, a move that makes the music feels like it's lifting off from earth for ever-ascendant heights. Halfway through, chords penetrate the haze, followed by staggered layers of Saul's singing voice, after which the music again incrementally decompresses until it concludes with the same acoustic guitars with which it began. It's an auspicious introduction to a collection that identifies Saul as someone who may share certain things in common with the singer-songwriter tradition but shares just as much with explorative electronic practices too. The combination of vocals and guitar-generated sound sculpting makes for an unusual and arresting mix, and one that helps Saul's album separate itself from the competition.

If anything, Saul plunges even deeper into experimental territory when he uses an industrial churn of scrapes and creaks as an unsettling backdrop for his cryptic vocal musings during “My Escape.” Strip his impassioned vocals away from “Clockwork” and you'd be left with a grainy, guitar-based ambient meditation overflowing with stuttering effects and phasing treatments; as it is, the two components work together in reinforcing the track's mood of desperation. Framed by two brief instrumentals (“(harsh),” “(final)”), the recording's longest piece (its climax, really), the thirteen-minute “Cannonball,” ups the emotional ante even more by escalating the aggressive attack to such heights the music could be called shoegaze during its loudest moments. The album ends with the Hotpants Romance composition “Stop Escaping” (from It's a Heatwave ) that Saul delivers in a more traditional singer-songwriter style—not an unwelcome choice given the consistently untraditional pieces that come before it. Each of the album's seven pieces flows into the one after, making the fifty-three-minute recording feel as if it were laid down in real time, all of which helps make Saul's Harsh, Final come to life with an enhanced sense of urgency and immediacy.

November 2009