‘Lone Wolf’ has been a silent film, a book, a song, a TV series and a Native American chief, but never the alter ego of a singer, until Paul Marshall chose it to house his subtly sombre, gorgeously haunting songs.
Having used his own name for 2007’s acoustic-based debut Vultures, Lone Wolf signals a much expanded sound. His album dovetails perfectly with Bella Union’s stable of supreme melodicists and outstanding vocalists, such as Fleet Foxes, John Grant and Stephanie Dosen. But The Devil & I stands alone, as lone wolves do. The melodies may be persuasively dreamy and the vocal delivery tender and restrained, but the mood is troubled.
Is the devil a female of the species? In the opening ‘This Is War’, the narrator confesses, “The demons are alive in her head… This ain’t a war I’ll be coming home from.” The tension subsides for ‘Keep Your Eyes On The Road’ that has the plaintive harmonies and acoustic warmth of Crosby, Stills & Nash, though that bucolic image fades as soon as Marshall warns his driver, “keep your eyes on the road / I have no desire to be the flower on the central reservation.” The song ends with the tension well and truly ramped, and so the album goes, shifting between troubadour tenderness and fleshed-out band drama.
“As I was writing the record,” Marshall recalls, “I started using lots of other instruments, like Wurlitzers, pianos, drums, trumpets, and before you know it, I wanted a string quartet on it, then a choir and a really big electric guitar. It got to the point when I realised that I hadn’t written Vultures 2, hence the name change.”
Vultures had its dark parts but little compares to these new songs, which grip like a vice, from murder ballad ‘15 Letters’ to the more oblique threat of ‘We Could Use Your Blood’ and ‘Buried Beneath The Tiles’, or strung across the triple whammy of ‘Russian Winter’, ‘Soldier’ and ‘Dead River’. And then there’s the two-part title track, from doomy-grey instrumental to the band version that closes the album on a haunted high.
Lone Wolf has momentarily abandoned his solitary alienation to play live with a backing band of Leeds peers – Lindsay Wilson (Grammatics), James Mabbett (Napoleon IIIrd) and James Kenosha. Following Wild Beasts’ singer Tom singling out Lone Wolf’s album as one of his hot tips for 2010, they’re supporting Wild Beasts on their UK tour this March. The Devil & I sounds like there’s little hope left, but in fact, it all begins here. Paul Marshall is metaphorically dead. Long live Lone Wolf.
With ‘Chiaroscuro’, I Break Horses have created a fully-realised and utterly captivating tour-de-force. New sonic terrain is compellingly explored by Lindén, where electronic beats and synth-pop soundscapes replace the more shoegaze based-sound of their debut. As a result, there is a marked immediacy and directness to the new songs. As Lindén states: “I found myself writing almost all the sketches on the piano this time.” The music was recorded, mixed and produced by Lindén, with first lp wordsmith Fredrik Balck providing lyrical ideas from the images he derived from the music. Finally, Lindén and Balck would finish the lyrics together.
The title of ‘Chiaroscuro’ – meaning “light-dark” – serves as the perfect embodiment of Lindén’s sonic creations, where an atmosphere and mood is created that evokes innermost feelings and thoughts residing beyond the surface reality of the material world. Affecting ballads such as ‘Heart To Know’ and ‘You Burn’ are wrapped in fragile beauty. ‘Denial’ and ‘Medicine Brush’ are sublime synth-pop odysseys whose pulses guide you to new horizons. ‘Faith’ is a dance anthem complete with hypnotic beats, swirling synths and the mesmerising looped vocals of Lindén. “I let myself write both the happiest songs but also the saddest, and then I put them together”, states Lindén. This arrangement of light and dark forms the essence of ‘Chiaroscuro’.
‘Ascension’ is rooted in a gorgeous 80s synth-pop sound, where Lindén’s vocals melt into the lush sonic tapestry. The song deals with love and forgiveness. An irresistible groove lies at the heart of ‘Disclosure’ where a divine purity is distilled in the intricate array of instrumentation. ‘You Burn’ is perhaps the album’s centrepiece, as well as being the opening track, where a brooding darkness envelops the surrounding human space. The delicate piano chords drift magnificently amidst Linden’s searching lyrics. I Break Horses are one of those rare bands capable of conjuring up raw emotion through a sound that is ultimately something life-affirming.