Elle Mary & the Bad Men - Constant Unfailing Night [Sideways Saloon/Kartel Music Group]

Elle Mary & the Bad Men – Constant Unfailing Night [Sideways Saloon/Kartel Music Group]

Elle Mary started writing songs three years ago in her adopted hometown of Manchester after a break up. Some of the nine songs that make up debut album Constant Unfailing Night date from these folky beginnings but they’ve moved on, like Elle herself. This collection of songs is clearly rooted in traditional folk but they’re more expansive, more ambitious.

The character of the record makes itself clear in the first pair of tracks. ‘Falling’ works its magic with tendrils of guitar, creeping in from the peripherals, and mannered, crystalline vocals. It’s followed by ‘No Baby’ which begins with laconic strums and a more laidback air. The chorus soars and then fades with the lyrics, “Pulling me down like gravity”. It seems to slow to a natural stop, only to burst into a lovely, twisting, bass-led riff full of joie de vivre. It’s a nod and a wink to the solemn slowcore of the rest of the record; the ache of the line “Happiness is a relief” in ‘Happiness’, the muttered “We can pretend we’re dead” of ‘Pretend’.

It’s not exactly a barrel of laughs, but it’s emotional without being crushingly sad. If this is a break up album, there’s an awareness of the absurdity of being so heavy-hearted. The aforementioned ‘Pretend’ is described by Elle as “tongue-in-cheek… It’s meant to make you laugh at your own outrage but simultaneously give you strength”. The same could be said about the song that follows it. ‘Dark’ moves at a snail’s pace, its first half made up of barely-there guitar and whispered vocals swelling into another of those riffs, so different in character to the preceding two-and-a-half minutes as to feel almost jaunty.

The elliptical, music box guitar of ‘Ocean’ is the emotional heart of the record. As it grows, the band pads the sound out and then drops back out on each line. Backing vocals breeze in as the song swells and eventually bursts into overdriven electric guitar without losing control for a second. It’s a masterpiece of restraint and wouldn’t feel out of place on a Low album. There’s an awful lot going on here. Constant Unfailing Night is a record that keeps giving.

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