Loved Ones release debut album The Merry Monarch later this month, Getintothis delivers it’s verdict on one of Liverpool music’s most hotly-anticipated records of 2013.
It’s late summer. And it’s late at night. Getintothis is sat in a Chinese restaurant with friends discussing with liberal verbosity what’s wrong with some Liverpool musicians.
‘They just don’t want to be heard, they just don’t want to break out the bubble,’ says Mike, bean sprout encrusted to his chin, as spare rib juice smears up past his cheeks.
In between mouthfuls of hoisin duck, we’re keen to argue the point, but am shot down with a killer blow, ‘What about those fellas that won the GIT Award – you never heard from them – and you told me they recorded a belter of a record?‘
There was little comeback. The defence rested devouring a dumpling while liberally decorating the white paper table-cloth with black bean sauce.
Until now. More than 18 months on from hearing Loved Ones‘ original demo recording of The Merry Monarch we were yet to hear the final version of what was already a stunning album. A 12-track collection which oozed ideas, sizzled with emotive beauty and coursed together like all the best albums do resting complete like it was born to be.
Yet The Merry Monarch MK I was incomplete. It was far from fully conceived.
And despite the cornerstones of Liverpool’s music community and respected figures from The Quietus, NME, Vice Magazine and The Guardian agreeing that the album was 2011/2012’s stand out achievement within Merseyside – resulting in the group collecting the inaugural GIT Award – Loved Ones were not happy with the results.
Instead, they retreated into the shadows, back to their Brook House Studio, and let their fellow nominees pick up the baton and run with it. At the time it seemed a characteristic moment of Scouse musical madcap ambivalence.
Now it makes perfect sense.
The final master of The Merry Monarch is exactly that; honed from an original 12 tracks to 10, it’s a masterclass in musicianship underscored by rich melodies from one of Merseyside’s strongest song-writing teams.
Where the original recording was very much the vehicle of frontman Nik Glover and percussionist Rich Hurst, the finished version resonates with a group dynamic; bolder in style, richer in spirit and wide-screen in production – in essence, it sounds very much the definitive article.
You can buy a definitive copy on Monday June 24 through new Liverpool label Baltic Sub but for now, here’s our take on Loved Ones‘ debut album The Merry Monarch.
1. Matchsticks: A gong, a blast of synths, chopstick percussion, flashing bells and a frenetic chatter of whistles kick start The Merry Monarch – and almost symbolically a false start guitar strum – almost acting as a knowing wink to their jolting musical beginnings.
Then we’re off, whisked on a white-water raft of ebbing rhythmic clatter interupted by zipping keys. The extended intro dissolves two and a half minutes in as Nik Glover‘s soft whisper wafts around the tribal rat-ta-tat-tat.
Thanks to engineer Tim Rowkins, it’s markedly a busier affair than the original recording – then named Matchsticks (The Burrowers) – and it’s this zest which allows the album to fizz off at a roaring pace.
2. Paper Crown: This electrified malevolent creeper is a new addition to the record and only serves to underline the band’s development and confidence.
Layers of synthetic beats married to Ben Shooter‘s squelching oily synth chords meld into a hypnotic refrain of ‘It’s your birthday, we’ll do anything you like,’ which evoke menacing intent rather than a gesture of goodwill.
Closing with an extended outro of rippling tensed strings and electrical rain drops, Paper Crown is both warm yet bristling with darkness.
It’s worth nothing one of Getintothis‘ favourite tracks from the original record, Mossman, has been dropped entirely at this point; the second song was a gentle Beta Band-like march with a gorgeous Glover vocal falsetto.
3. Hell: Released way back in October 2011, Hell, remains a killer tune – and despite losing half it’s title (it was originally named Are You Hiding Out In Hell?) is almost untouched from those early recordings.
Underpinned by Rich Hurst‘s insistent earthy beats and Shooter’s low-end woody keys, it retains it’s human edge thanks once again to Glover’s breathy delivery – a vocal which is near-indecipherable at times allows the listener to submit and lose themselves inside the myriad of glistening electronic delights before suddenly closing with a bracing stop. Glorious.
4. Weekends Are Ours: Glover has spoken numerous times about how he came up with the title, The Merry Monarch, prior to making the music – and the thematic element of the album; a loose story arc revolving around family, local legend and folk tales shapes the music – and on Weekends Are Ours, another relatively new composition – these subjects are married together and pushed to the fore.
It’s eerie, celestial washes intertwine with a Brothers Grimm style woodlands rhythmic skip; it’s playful and childlike yet murderously creepy.
And with lyrical imagery of ‘pale green suns‘, something ‘tied under the staircase’ twinned with Ian Gamester‘s sinister promo video, it’s a composition fit for the witching hour.
5. All Your Cry: Given a low key release back in March 2012, it seemed almost criminal how this gem of a track slipped through most music fan’s nets. Once again, Hurst’s choppy percussive thrust acts as the primary lead instrument with Glover picking his way around an acoustic guitar as the music builds to a mini surge and that once-heard unforgettable refrain. Closing the first half of the record, and all five tracks are simply top drawer winners.
6. Red Dawn: The half-way point, and one of few remaining survivors from the original recording. A moonlit lullaby which sticks around for just two and half minutes built around a bobbing rhythm and Glover’s high-pitched clean vocal. Red Dawn acts as a centre-piece before some of The Merry Monarch‘s darker second half moments.
7. Hi Pressure: Dense, brooding and delicately crafted, Hi Pressure is a complex composition almost reluctant to share it’s charms. Muffled vocals, and deep relentless footstomps, this is the sound of the Wu Tang jamming with Bon Iver and the results are seductive, stimulating and one again rather sinister.
Track seven of the original demo, The Yellow-Green Cats Eyes Of Home, failed to make the final cut – and rightly so. A neo-folk Tom Waits bar-room waltz, it’s jarring stagger would have disrupted the flow of the master.
8. Currents: Continuing the brooding, beat-driven fuzz, ‘new’ track Currents ditches much of the pastoral elements of earlier recordings instead adopting a languid electronica set to Glover’s searching vocal which swirls around the line, ‘it’s a beautiful life…‘
Originally track eight, Magic, is another song not to make The Merry Monarch. This jaunty percussive-heavy ditty had it’s twinkling charms but it’s no great loss.
9. Ale Hood: After the relative dip in mood, Ale Hood injects a delicate sprightly tone to the latter portion of The Merry Monarch – and once again showcases the relationship between Shooter and Glover. Deft piano skirts around a twinned vocal melody propped up by sweeping orchestration with superlative results.
The album’s familial theme returns to the fore, as Glover ramps up the romanticism with a choral heart-string tug of, ‘You were the first, you were the last.‘
Two further tracks not to make the mastered version of the album are Ambient Reouxion – a 47 second woozy, beat-box stutter – and the chiming, folky strum of Old Perculiar, a track, which while resonating with haunting autumnal beauty, could be seen to be harking back to Glover’s own personal collection of solo compositions.
10. Wild Palms: Every classic debut album needs a final flourish – and in the seven-minute Wild Palms Loved Ones have a corker.
It’s one of those stunning unions of heart-wrenching music and positively uplifting melodies; a mini epic with remarkable results.
Where the original blended toy-like piano and cushioned musicality, the mastered version purrs with sonic vitality.
The slow build of oceanic piano, electrical pulsing currents and soft bass ebbs into view as Glover’s vocal line begins with a delicate cry before subtle swells of layer upon layer of music climbs to beautifully understated crescendo. It’s another highlight on a record studded with them.
Liverpool music has been made to wait for Loved Ones for sometime, but as masters of their own destiny they’ve crafted music which should leave a lasting legacy, and in The Merry Merry Monarch they’ve shaped the strongest debut album from these parts in sometime.
The Merry Monarch is released via Baltic Sub on Monday June 24 2013.
The album launch is on Saturday June 29, 8pm at the Scandinavian Church. Support comes from The Laze, £7. Event details.
Further reading on Getintothis
Loved Ones named in Getintothis‘ top 10 bands of Liverpool Sound City 2013.
Loved Ones at Getintothis‘ Inner Visions at FACT.
Loved Ones named in Getintothis‘ top tracks of 2012.
Loved Ones: Weekends Are Ours.
Loved Ones speak after winning the GIT Award 2012 at Leaf.
Loved Ones win the GIT Award 2012 at Leaf.
GIT AWARD 2012: Artist nominee profile – Loved Ones.
Loved Ones: All Your Cry.
Loved Ones: Are You Hiding Out In Hell?
Loved Ones named in Getintothis‘ ones to watch of 2012.
Loved Ones named in Getintothis‘ top tracks of 2011.