Danny Saul - Harsh, Final

Chris Tapley 12/10/2009

Rating: 3.5/5

The debut solo album from Manchester 'singer-songwriter' Danny Saul is an intriguing affair, as is immediately apparent from the beautifully haunting artwork. This is an aesthetic which carries across in to the music. It begins with a slow acoustic guitar which is soon accompanied by a bed of swirling celestial tones gradually building layer upon layer of beautiful textures, the crowning one being that of Saul's resonant vocals. What begun as a fairly straightforward track fans out in to a sprawling sonic collage full of crackling tape hiss, and establishes Saul has more of an experimental ambient artist than your standard acoustic warbler.

My Escape follows a similar blueprint; with a slow creeping ambience punctured only by Saul's dulcet vocals. The slow, laconic nature of the music gives it a semi-improvised feel which compliments the length of the tracks, there's an understated majesty to these songs which is reminiscent of David Thomas Broughton. Many solo artists and particularly singer songwriter types make the misguided decision to crowd their songs with as many overdubbed instruments as possible to engineer some feeling of grandeur, it's great to hear someone embracing the limitations of the one man band and in fact using to great effect. The minimal nature of the compositions at times make them seem more like incidental music than songs, the kind of thing you can fully imagine being used in a slow burning psychological horror. Of course the unsettling atmosphere and the ambiguous morbidity of the lyrical content help to inform this perception; My Escape makes use of wonderfully sinister imagery such as “your bleeding eyes'.

Cannonball is very much the centre piece of the album, clocking in at 13 minutes. It begins with distant sliding electric guitars drenched in reverb before blossoming in to a sprawling piece of salacious acoustic guitar work which is then draped in layered vocals which gradually swell with repetition until it is gleefully stripped right back to nothing. It then builds again, layer upon layer, sounding like a less dazed version of Grouper until the introduction of a wall of dissonant electric guitar pushes the track over the edge; it's a moment of genuine euphoria and you can't help but feel as though this is the moment that the whole album has been building towards. Arguably the most beautiful track on the album though is also one of the shortest, and precedes the main event, (Harsh) is again a meld of slowly picked acoustic guitars paired with a deep reverberating bass line, it is an entrancing master class in minimalism which recalls Set Fire to Flames, or GY!BE at their most languid.

The closing track is a cover of Manchester lo-fi trio Hotpants Romance. This is more standard singer songwriter fare, and having listened to the original Saul has done well to even craft this from it. Try as he does though he cannot bring to it the tortured eloquence which he can his own material, and ultimately it is the poor link in an otherwise excellent album and would have been better saved for another release. At times the record can feel frustratingly slow, but for the most part it is wholly captivating.