The Big Eyes Family Players – Oh!
I’m not quite sure if Home Assembly Music is attempting to throw me a curveball with this album, but following recent releases from the likes of The Declining Winter, Peptalk and A New Line (Related), it would be fair to say that there’s no musical commonality between the various artists on the label. Be it techno, post-rock, folk, or even modern classical, I wouldn’t put it past Home Assembly to release an album of Barron Knights “classics” in an electronic style performed by a Steps tribute act. Possibly.
‘Oh!’ is actually The Big Eyes Family Players’ seventh album. First things first, I love the sleeve. There’s a definite ‘retro’ feel to the artwork which actually suits the music rather well. This includes the neat little inclusion of the ‘STEREO’ banner in the top-right-hand corner, just like albums from the sixties. In fact, the entire album really doesn’t feel like it’s from 2016 at all. The sixties would feel far more appropriate. Not the ‘swinging’ sixties either – there’s no Cilla Black or Twiggy on offer here.
During the first few bars of “Pendulum”, I actually wondered if it might open out like, say, “Billy Blue” from Faith Over Reason, but then it goes completely off at a tangent. For some reason, it makes me imagine a woman in a long, flowing white dress dancing on the top of a hill while singing about fairy dust, goblins and magic. It’s actually a nice track – in a completely bonkers kind of way.
“Reeves’ Lament” is far more your traditional kind of folk – though the inclusion of the olde-worlde organ adds a third dimension. In fact, the intro and the time signature kind of initially pointed me in the direction of Country and Western. For a moment there, I was sweating… The track itself is quite understated, which says a lot about how the band interacts. Often musicians want to leave their mark, which results in ‘volume-overload’ as the guitar part becomes more pronounced, causing the keyboards to be turned up a notch and then the drums followed by even more guitar etc. Before you know it, a band who on record sounds like All About Eve suddenly sounds like Iron Maiden on stage – with everybody competing for volume and space in the mix. What’s really nice here is that the band knows how to make the songs work without having to play the loudness game.
There are odd moments when the songs do pick up volume – generally when introducing an organ or strings for a chorus or middle-eight – but there’s a feeling of lots of ‘space’ in the mix, which I like. Heather Ditch’s vocals flow effortlessly atop the instrumentation and work really well. In fact, her vocals suit the music perfectly. Guy Whitaker’s drums also deserve a mention as they really impressed me; during ‘Ghosts’, it’s the drums which really drive the track forwards with a feel which I’m sure Elbow would be delighted with.
“Witch-Prickers Dream” is an odd title for a track, don’t you think? It turns out that during the 16th century, common belief held that a witch could be discovered through the process of pricking their skin with needles. Well, witch-prickers may indeed dream – but I would proffer that they’re probably not having a dream at all – it’s actually a nightmare. At the end of the day, if a potential witch turns out not to be a witch then what sort of life can they look forward to? They’re probably going to be burnt regardless “just to be on the safe side”. The track doesn’t sway me from this thinking given that it sounds like it might have been recorded in the 16th century. Anyway, I’m off to look for some needles just in case.
“Ray” is my favourite song here. There’s a dark edge to the track, helped again by an organ which sounds like it might have been lifted straight out of the Hammer House of Horrors – and the chorus is fabulous too.
This is music which could have been recorded at any time. The band have worked really well to create something ‘otherworldly’ and different.
~‘Oh!’ is released on 26 February on vinyl as a limited-edition of 250 copies via Home Assembly Music.~