Salamander is such a warm, charming record, you get the feeling after a few listens that you'd really like to hang out with Doug over a pint or two.
You know what annoys me? The fact that an album like this can slip unnoticed through the "music fashion" net... Gawd...It really beggars belief. If you don't know who Doug Gillard is (and I'm suspecting 90% of the people who read this don't), then I suppose I owe you some form of introduction. Gillard is the guy who gave Guided By Voices some of their most crunching guitar riffs after 1997. A true artist, in other words. One who should be revered and constantly referenced. Why is it more people know of charlatans like R. Williams esq. or artisans like Keane but not artists like Doug Gillard? I don't get it...
I'll stop moaning now and, in an attempt to rectify this sad state of affairs, I'll endeavour to give this album a review it deserves.
For those expecting the shuddering riffery found on late period GBV releases like Isolation Drills, then I have to say that you will have to look elsewhere for the realisation of your expectations. This is a light, mellow, almost carefree body of work, much more winsome than expected in its spirit, and closer to someone like James Kirk than Captain Bob...
But so bloody what?
Valpolicella is a light hearted clarion call, it sounds like Doug's trying to get us to all come down to the beach and have a beer or two. As with the rest of the album, you notice that the feedback is kept under control, a light strummy sound; (a very mid sixties, or Big Star guitar style, if any comparison can be drawn). Going Back is a beautifully affirmative love song, slowly building up to a wonderfully soft (and soppy) conclusion. As my gilrfriend rightly says, it's a real romantic record. Momma is a very affecting tribute to his mom which, despite the slow build up and elegaic ending, never becomes mawkish. Yet again, the guitar is restrained, and the simplicity and the beauty of the song is allowed to shine through. Me and The Wind is more upbeat, a humourous tub thumper, with an ending that reminds me of a Cocteau Twins chord progression ("Fotzen politic" for those Twins fans who might be interested). Give Me Something is the closest we come to a GBV work out, all growly guitars and power chords.
The best tracks in my book are the last three, Drip Nose Boy could be a lost Stooges chord progression, there's also shades of Alex Chilton here too. Its pontificating demeanour is out of sight very quickly, leaving you somewhat unprepared for the quiet beginning of The Cape and The Bay a real Smile type confessional, all twangy guitar offset by high, reedy synths. The last track, But I see Something, sounds so much like early St Etienne I thought I'd put the wrong cd in the payer. However it soon settles down to be a brilliant if quirky number, once again it's personal to the point of confessional, but offset by a rousing chorus.
Salamander is such a warm, charming record, you get the feeling after a few listens that you'd really like to hang out with Doug over a pint or two. In fact I might just do that if I get the chance. Top man, top release.
Words : Richard Foster