It’s a bit unpopular to be a male singer/songwriter that isn’t over 50 at the moment if you have a gruff lower toned voice, but solo multi instrumentalist Noel is well under that and bucks the trend in a Beck-like way.
His first solo album (formerly of The White Oaks) kicks off with the subdued “Lost in Love” with its bluesy electric piano and hushed voice humming and creaking through the motions. The guitar kicks in after a while but it’s a short and sweet introduction before things get a little darker and dank. “The Breath Oh Yes” has an early Beck loose drum loop to it and minimal bass and guitar work. It’s about the low-fi approach to make it sexy and sensual as it builds up to a climax of sound towards the end. It’s a great anti-pop track and well recommended as somewhere to start. Title track “I Won’t Answer” is more funky with some great vocal collages and grungy bled out bass guitar chugs. It feels like a 90’s Jeans advert! It also reminds me of a chilled Soundgarden in many ways too, the voice and percussion especially.
“My Lover’s Coming For Me” continues the low-fi approach with whispers and a bass/vocal introduction that slowly warms from the dark with keyboard marimba sounds being circulated around the speakers. However, it’s the creaks and groans of guitar amps and feedback that is kept oh so quiet in the background of the track that gives it a sinister vibe. Two thirds through a drum beat kicks in and it suddenly wraps itself up. Continuing interesting production and arrangements, Noel’s next track “Crime and Religion” takes a leaf from PJ Harvey’s ‘Let England Shake’ album. There’s faint washed out brass over acoustic guitars and heavily amped vocals that talk as much as sing. It’s catchy, melodic and tinged with depressed resignation. “White Bread Black Oil” is a shuffle rock track that takes a simple riff and goes with it. A real foot stomper with cooking tips that go deeper than they should – who want’s more than that?
“Lord Look After Me” is Noel’s version of a singing a hymn. His voice is layered several times over himself and later joined with female backing vocals and drums that slowly plod through. Underpinning the track are guitar harmonics and ripples of feedback. It’s miserable and depressing – just how we like it! “Where I See You In The Stars” gives us some string arrangements for the first time on the album over a tripping beat and acoustic guitar. Throughout the album I love all the little nuances that the production has and here it really adds to the space the song holds – especially because of the strange rhythm initially it’s difficult to pick the beat. The moaning chorus though is amazingly delicate, as is the track itself. “The Kingdom” is much like the Lord track but drones of keyboards replace the feedback. It’s a warmer track with a spiritual side to it and muted marching drums bring a train ride ethic to it that’s quite unusual. It all ends up sliding into instrumental “Tornado Weather” which is full of quirky keyboards, pianos, guitars and low fi percussion. It is a great sign off to Noel’s first solo album and pitches him firmly into the one to watch category.
“I Won’t Answer” is a clever album that’s full of moments of darkness, genius, honesty and clever reflection. The male singer/songwriter multi instrumentalist category has been left alone too long and Noel firmly plonks himself at the frontline of emerging talent with this album. Well recommended.