Meursault – Crow Hill
Meursault have never sounded so triumphant and full of conviction; Crow Hill harbours enough masterfully executed twists and turns to merit a seatbelt warning
If boredom is – as frequent Meursault collaborator Faith Eliott attests on her recent single Lilith – 'the true original sin', then Neil Pennycook and company can rest easy. Crow Hill consists of 12 songs, each of which tells the story of a different character with ties to the fictional town from which the record takes its name, and it's Pennycook’s most vibrant, ambitious and remarkably cohesive record to date, fusing the best of his past releases with something unequivocally new.
Something for the Weakened (particularly Marnie) laid bare the Edinburgh-based songwriter’s formidable capacity for empathy, while I Will Kill Again affirmed that the cruelty and failures of his characters were as worthy of exploration as their satisfaction and triumphs, if not more. On Crow Hill, Pennycook’s protagonists are more fully-realised than ever before, whether they're observing gentrification ('I see for miles and I see nothing') or devolving into a sea creature ('All flippers and gills / I am fully equipped') and returning to the ocean.
The intoxicating abrasiveness of the first two Meursault records returns with a vengeance on Jenifer, a two-minute exercise in seething tension ('I do believe that no crime should go unpunished / And I also believe that most people cannot stomach it') and brutal release as all of Pennycook’s barely contained fury is unleashed in conjunction with a nightmarish, cathartic assault of wild electronics.
Following the ecstatic charge of Strong Armed Son and feverish musings of The Beast – both of which are propelled by prominent, pulsating synth lines – Nakhla Dog is a little disarming in its stillness. A tender piano melody accompanies gentle strumming; however, Pennycook remains consistent in his distinctive balancing of beauty and brutality as he sings: 'You be the chainsaw and I’ll be the pine'. Robyn Dawson's violin shines on a delicate rendition of Hank Williams’ I Heard My Mother Praying For Me, which has transfixed many an audience over the last year or so.
Art School and The Unreliable Narrator offer consolation to those who have opened their eyes a little too wide, and perhaps a cold bucket of water over the heads of those who haven’t. 'I see at least through each of your abstractions', Pennycook sings, harbouring a dissatisfaction that simultaneously weighs him down and sharpens his focus. Crow Hill is a vindicating listen for those wary of music that leans heavily on sentimentality. Pennycook calls out bullshit and complacency – 'How many thoughts have died / By your uncalloused hand' – and he does so with humour, compassion and relish.
Meursault have never sounded as triumphant and full of conviction as they do on Beaten, something of an anti-anthem anthem. In contrast, unsettling ambience accompanies Pennycook’s narrator in Carry On, Carrion: 'I said I love you / You hung up'. Crow Hill harbours enough masterfully executed twists and turns to merit a seatbelt warning, and offers a sublime tonic of sorts for these bizarre and frustrating times.
Listen to: Beaten, The Unreliable Narrator, Nakhla Dog