The Douglas Firs – Happy As a Windless Flag

The band is so adept at hiding their light under a bushel or sounding hesitant at what you’d think is a vital part of a song’s architecture (the “middle bit”), that the inattentive listener could switch off. So make sure you turn the bloody volume up, otherwise you’ll miss lots.
 

http://www.armellodie.com


This took some getting into but it was well worth the perseverance. I say it took me a long time, not because of any inherent difficulty with the music, as it’s a very accessible LP in terms of well, you know, actually listening; but the vibe is quiet and undemonstrative, one of those records you play about ten times before realising the whole thing’s really great.


It’s a dreamy record, at times you can lose focus, but maybe that’s the intention, and the odd shard of noise is the exception rather than the rule. The opener I Will Kill Again floats in after a burst of electronic rumbling, and starts to lay down a steady piano-led mantra: it's all very laid back and grooving. There’s something a little disconnected too, the singing has a ragged, campfire element which I have to say I find enormously appealing. This campfire vibe gets hitched up a bit with A Military Farewell: which takes Glory, Glory, Hallelujah and playfully mucks about with it; (I don’t know the story behind the song, I presume it’s an anti-war tract). And again the vocals are laid back to the point of horizontal: it’s not in your face at all, which is nice.


Funnily enough this particular track highlights what can be really enjoyable but also baffling about this bunch; about half way through the track turns into an electronic mood piece, the sort of shimmering dreamy electronics you’d expect from a Delia Derbyshire or Studio G recording.  But it’s done so undemonstratively that it can throw you. The band is so adept at hiding their light under a bushel or sounding hesitant at what you’d think is a vital part of a song’s architecture (the “middle bit”), that the inattentive listener could switch off. So make sure you turn the bloody volume up, otherwise you’ll miss lots.


Actually there’s a fair chunk of dreamy instrumental stuff throughout with tracks like Future State, Nature and Nurture and Sepulture; which boasts a lovely guitar line threading through it). The acid campfire groove is never far away, with The Quickening (a marvellously out of focus chant which morphs into a bucolic hoe down). By the album’s end The Douglas Firs start to rouse themselves a bit from their drowsy bacchanal with powerful, flexible tracks such as The Shadow Line, Balance of Halves and Soporific. Finally they show their muscle and a powerful and coherent band emerges from the wings.


Bloody hippies :)