27 May 2022
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Gramsci - Album Review: The Hinterlands

10 Feb 2022 // A review by Kev Rowland

My personal introduction to Gramsci was 2020’s wonderful Inheritance album, and in many ways that was a rebirth as it was the first album Paul McLaney had released under that name for 15 years. He credits the revitalisation with his teaming up with Greg Haver, an award-winning Welsh record producer most renowned for his work with The Manic Street Preachers. Paul provides the songs, vocals, guitar, and synth with Greg on the drums, and they are joined by Marika Hodgson on bass and Jol Mulholland on guitar. I must confess at this point that Marika is one of my favourite bassists in New Zealand – I first saw her performing with Troy Kingi at Tuning Fork some years back and asked TeMatera Smith who it was, as she just blew me away and I spent nearly as much time studying her technique as I did watching Troy! Of course, Jol is no slouch either, having performed with the likes of Neil Finn and Liam Finn, James Milne, and Anika Moa, so this line-up has an incredibly strong pedigree behind them.

But this is Paul’s band, and the album is a combination of late 70’s Roxy Music with lighter Simple Minds, plus some Bowie thrown in for good measure. This is music which is gentle and warm, imbued with an incredibly strong sense of rhythm and melody, washing over the listener in comforting waves. When describing the album, Paul says that in many ways it is the fulfilment of a promise to his sixteen-year-old self, the one who was intoxicated by The Cure, Pink Floyd, The The, The Smiths and the worlds they created he could escape into, safe harbours. There is certainly not much danger here, and even with two guitarists there is little in the way of dynamic attack, with the concentration always on the vocals and everything else slotting in behind, accompanying and supporting but never getting ahead of themselves.

There is the impression of everyone knowing exactly what they are doing and what they are meant to deliver, which means it is highly polished indeed. With Haver on co-production it is no surprise that between the two of them they have delivered a highly finessed product, yet there are times when I wish they would break farther away from the path they have set themselves. It is quite possible to be lost inside this album, which is a good thing, but it is also possible (when playing in the background, which is a travesty I know) to suddenly find the album has finished. The reason for this is that while Gramsci are producing some incredible music, I would prefer the album to have more contrast within it, heavier to offset the light, more power to offset the restraint. I actually found I got more from the album if I played the songs individually and took a break as then their true beauty shines through, and virtually all of them could be lifted as singles as they all contain something quite special.

There is a lot going inside the layers, and the arrangements are both diverse and sparse, incredibly complex yet simplistic, allowing Greg to often do more than just keep a beat in 4/4 while Marika is often controlling the melody, with guitars and keyboards adding touches to control the overall effect. I missed Paul’s Auckland show last time around as I was double-booked, so hopefully I can make it when he tours this album as this is something I would really like to see and hear in concert.

Rating: ( 4 / 5 )
 

About Gramsci

The name Gramsci is taken from an infamous Italian political philosopher.




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Releases

The Hinterlands
Year: 2022
Type: Album
Inheritance
Year: 2020
Type: Album
Like Stray Voltage
Year: 2005
Type: Album
Object
Year: 2002
Type: Album
Permanence
Year: 2001
Type: Album

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