The only future occasion on which I can conceivably imagine my palate encountering Southern Comfort would be in the attempt to wash away the taste of something even more rank and uncultured. Domestos, perhaps. Or Pot Noodle. It would be a moment of panic, desperation, desolation, and unfathomable loneliness.
It’s the phrase “unique blend”, you see. That, and “distinct taste”. If you’ve ever made the mistake of visiting one of those Mongolian barbeques where you are encouraged to create your own stir fry, you’ll have an idea of what I mean. It’s the taste of tangible disappointment – a blend so muddled it is bitterly, obnoxiously and distinctly bland.
Southern Comfort is a drink for the unrefined palate of youth, suited to a time when the thing you consume is less important than its after-effects. Far from taking you back to New Orleans, this pungent swill takes you to cheesy discos, early morning taxi queues, and the odd trip to A&E.
So…just what has any of this got to do with Swiss quartet The Lonesome Southern Comfort Company’s most recent outing, The Big Hunt? Aside from the name? Well, let me explain.
I hadn’t previously listened to the band, but fellow reviewers assured me that what I should prepare myself for was a big old glassful of bluesy Americana with a twist of sonic indie rock. What I actually heard was, well, a whole lot of things, but not any one thing in particular.
Take, for example, the first track ‘When He’s Down’. Bluegrass guitar leads into Samuel Beam-esque vocals; the sound thickens as if Mark Lanegan’s shadow has been cast over it, then suddenly we have flashes of Air-infused grungy electro. The song’s pulsing repetition builds a wave of ominous malevolence, and at the very moment that your body demands this aural tsunami to crash through your head–silence; a snare-drum, mournful harmonies and close-to-spoken lyrics, which are gently swept away by an electro refrain.
Frustrating. Very frustrating. All the elements are there for a tantalising opening track, but at the last moment the band chooses to twist when it should stick, to stroke when it should bludgeon. If only they’d listened to My Morning Jacket’s ‘Circuital’, a master-class in how to layer sound, tease the listener with the anticipation of crescendo, then deliver and sustain said climax to the point of exhaustion. This track wins on points – but it’s Floyd Mayweather when what we really wanted was Manny Pacquiao.
The second song, ’64 Warwick Way’, could easily have been recorded by Scottish supergroup The Reindeer Section. It has a delicate and entrancing folk melody, but in over 8 minutes there is little by way of development or variety, save for the introduction of strings in the latter third.
I find myself playing spot-the-influence. The introduction to ‘Retreat’ comes out of the Flying Burrito Brothers’ playbook, ‘The Big Hunt’ reminds me of The Decemberists. The most successful track is ‘That 2am Call’, though even now I can hear Emily Barker in the haunting final section.
More Indie than Americana, The Big Hunt’s backbone is not the blues – it’s the LP that Snow Patrol might have produced as an extended exploration of Dire Straits’s iconic Brothers in Arms. It is a real blend of sounds; for the initiated you cannot help but pick them out as you listen, and therein lies the problem, as there are only fleeting moments when you hear The Lonesome Southern Comfort Company as a musical presence in their own right. It doesn’t stand up to the scrutiny of a close listening.
The Big Hunt is a record for people who don’t listen to Americana, who haven’t developed that particular palate, but want an introduction. It is the perfect soundtrack for one of those American TV teen-angst-fests. ‘Mary Anne’ is a classic make-up track: the camera pans through Shelbyville as one by one our heroes leave their houses and silently but familiarly acknowledge their friends in the bright absolving sunlight of a new day; recent calamitous grievances forgotten and replaced with a welcoming normal-service-resumed calm.
I don’t mean to give the impression that this is a bad record – far from it. That opening track really does show tremendous promise, John’s vocals are gritty – nay, verging on whisky-soaked – perhaps due to the fact that he sings in an alien tongue (there are some moments that are pure Shane McGowan), and the harmony produced by guitar and violin is enchanting. What The Big Hunt lacks is a refined coherence and, perhaps, a little confidence to trust in their instincts, rather than aiming for a modern commercial sound.
With age comes a refinement of taste. You no longer need to mash things together in order to enjoy them. Craving the pure and distinct, you savour it and price it highly. Advanced in years, I’m looking for music that has the depth and complexity of a single malt whiskey – something distinct and innovative, something that demands to be listened to.
I really do hope that The Lonesome Southern Comfort Company find their own bold recipe and distil their sound. There is no doubt that these guys can cook.
Words: Brother Gorillaman