If you have your ear to the ground to Sheffield’s music scene, you know Tom Baxendale from The Payroll Union, a band he’s been gigging with since 2012. If you paid attention to the darker times of 2013, you might’ve seen him serenading the night away at The Great Gatsby, in the company of David J. Roch and Low Duo, in his previous band, The Rainy Day Club.
3 years later and The Great Gatsby’s music room is now an extension for the cocktail-binging that goes in the joint. The Rainy Day Club is gone, long, long gone. The Payroll Union are there, I guess, on a writing retreat, pondering which historical catastrophe to write about. Tom Baxendale still wants to record and so now offers his solo album, In the city a short time ago.
I’m assuming that quite a few of these songs were intended for The Rainy Day Club‘s sophomore album. The sound fits, the intentions are there, and you can feel this becoming a more “grown up” version of Pale White Hands: less distortion, wider rooms to breathe, and a vocal style closer to the folk rock of the 70s. And the atmosphere is now thicker; rich smells of burnt birch logs create an intoxicating mist.
Now, this album being released so close to the equinox is probably an indicative of the general mood. It’s not a happy album; longing and nostalgia pour out of every song, dripping like molasses. ‘All my nightmares’ is a moody opener, with intermittent organ notes adding style to pervasive thoughts. ‘Red rags’ teeters between straight up rock and melancholy.
As the wind pushes the heather, a crimson sky slowly turns to death blue. Darkness comes out and the slower tunes come out. ‘Better than you’, the incisive. ‘Honey’, the alt-country lamentation. ‘All I ask’, the answer that comes to you after a long night of sleeping. These are the moments when Tom Baxendale is stronger: quiet but moving. Nostalgic and energetic. Depressing and wistful. You thought he had the dead man’s hand. He had a full house. The combinations work and that’s a prize for Mr. Baxendale to claim by himself and no one else.
Just like the seasons, the cycle repeats until a cold, swift ending. ‘Every dream’ bookends In the city a short time ago. Whereas the opening track hurried under the threat of nightmares, ‘Every dream’ comes from a place of peace. Is it peace through acceptance? Is it peace through understanding? Is it peace through coming to terms? The answer is in this track and it’s not my place to spoil it for you. It could feel like a downer ending, but, c’mon, it’s Autumn and the youthful abandon of Summer is now dead and buried below a mound made by orange and brown leaves. Far over yonder, Tom Baxendale takes note, turns around and walks amongst the naked trees, with an unknown direction but with a confidence that only time gives you.
Words: Sam J. Valdés López