Bleeding Heart Narrative - Tongue Tangled Hair

Nick Lewis 21/09/2009

Rating: 4/5

Tartaruga Records is fast becoming my favourite record label. First they gave us the mind-bendingly brilliant My Sister, Boudicca by Quinta, and now this, the second album from Oliver Barrett, aka Bleeding Heart Narrative.

Right from the opening harmonium chord you know this is going to be a beautiful record. And when At The End Of It All builds to its blissful crescendo of clattering drums, graceful strings, tremolo guitars and playful electronics you know that Bleeding Heart Narrative is going to live up to his name. The majority of this album is graceful, majestic, droney and downright gorgeous in the way that Sigur Rós were before the BBC made them famous, and the way that Godspeed You Black Emperor were. Yes indeed, this is the music of a bleeding heart.

Make no mistake though, Barrett is not just copying these groups, he is an incredibly gifted musician in his own right. The string arrangements at the start of Tilted The Wall reminded me of Ravel's string quartet pieces, and the moment when the looped, overdubbed vocals of Henry Box Brown get swallowed up by strings and bass is positively breathtaking. When Barrett makes the leap into singing, his melodies sound instantly familiar and classic - David Foster Wallace in particular could be mistaken for an English folk tune.

However, Tongue Tangled Hair is by no means a perfect album. As irrefutably stunning as all the dramatic bittersweet melancholy is, after a while the Bleeding Heart Narrative formula is revealed: start with a drone, most likely with some sort of noisy electronics, fade up some pretty melody on a piano, guitar or somesuch, establish a theme before building to melodramatic but wonderful coda. Repeat.

Having said that, formulas aren't necessarily a bad thing - the 12 bar blues is still kicking and if it ain't broke don't fix it. It is after all, a rather elegant formula and it makes departures from it all the more impressive: when after 3 minutes of drone and faraway vocal harmonies on A Dialogue an actual beat and a song came in, I was absolutely floored.

Barrett may not be quite as inventive as his labelmate Quinta, but this album shows he is an absolute master of uplifting melancholy.

Release date: 21.09.09