It’s hard not to feel a little mean-spirited when you know you’re about to dish out a somewhat critical look at a piece of work a band has clearly put so much work into.
‘Happy As A Windless Flag’, the debut album from Edinburgh’s The Douglas Firs is a deftly crafted effort which has obviously been lavished with love and attention by its composers. Unfortunately it seems that it has received perhaps a little too much and so the pudding has been left somewhat over-egged.
Now, it would be churlish to reprimand an album for being hard work. It’s well within its right to be. However, the danger here is that it then becomes inaccessible and I fear that is exactly what is going to happen here.
It took me sitting on the train with a massive pair of headphones and a pen and paper with which to take notes before I could pick out the flow of the album. On my first few listens I floated in and out and, as such, thought of the album as a complete melting pot of unrelated styles. It took devoting the time to really listen to every note for me to pick up the ebb and flow of the record and see how these styles were cohesively linked.
(Even then I challenge anyone to understand what the hell is going on with track 2 “A Military Farewell” which quite glaringly falls on the wrong side of Spinal Tap’s fine line between clever and stupid.)
The main issue with the album is that so much effort and industry has gone into making it sound like something that it basically sounds like nothing. The listener who drifts in and out and hears different styles peppered throughout the record isn’t wrong. The band have just gone out of their way to write passages which link them – many of which use very sparse instrumentation and sounds from nature. Think “For Emma, Forever Ago” but with none of the poignancy.
The end result is the perfect outline of an album but with very few of the colours filled in. Sure, there are bright patches, but they never threaten to break free of the monochrome holding them together.
(Released through Armellodie Records on 9th May 2011)
Kenneth John Porteous