A thousand years ago an advert proclaimed, ‘You can’t hurry a Murray’s’ referring to an old school boiled mint sweet. Well there is something of the Murray Mint to Her Name is Calla. It’s been a couple of years since I first brushed up against them around the time of the Heritage mini-album and my quest to get a copy of the majestic Condor and River. The full album has been long promised and much anticipated but The Quiet Lamb is now here, well almost. In an arcane and magical sort of way I seem to be the proud owner of the album before my wooden boxed and card-stuffed version comes tumbling through my door next month or so. Consequently I have been treating myself to many-a listen to this 70 minute plus opus.
HNIC don’t do short cuts, neither do they do hurried and in a time where everything seems to be faster, impatient and needing immediacy, this is welcome counterpoint. HNIC isn’t for everyone, this isn’t going to be up your street if you’re looking for a jolly sing-along or a smack between the eyes hook and chorus. Thankfully for an old prog type like me this is no problem. The slow build, reveal and development in The Quiet Lamb of course has its echoes these days in the perhaps unhelpful nomenclature that is post-rock, shoe-gaze and all the rest, but it also brings back more resonant memories of the album structures of Tangerine Dream and going back further still symphonic structures perhaps of Stravinsky or maybe Bruckner . Oh dear that sounds all rather worthy and pretentious, safe to say HNIC do carefully considered and structured music, written with a lot of heart and invested with a deep sense of authenticity and honesty
The Quiet Lamb is no easy piece of work. It does demand to be listened to in its entirety and at over 70 minutes that’s not always easy to achieve. The album mostly does manage to work as a whole, the shorter pieces such as Intervals I and II together with the perhaps too fragile, Homecoming inevitably suffer in comparison with the substantial set pieces across the work, which is a shame because they merit closer attention that simply link pieces.
The major tracks are either monumental pieces in their own rights, like Condor and River, or combine together as ‘movements’ of extended pieces as with Blood Promise and its associated track (and personal favourite)Pour More Oil and the three part suite The Union. IMHO I might have preferred Long Grass and Thief to be put together in a similar fashion but that’s not how it ended up.
Whilst there is of course a pervading melancholia to the set, inevitable given the provenance of some of the songs, it doesn’t feel maudlin or depressive to me. As you would hope there is a real sense of progression from earlier recordings, greater sensitivity in recording, Tom Morris’ vocals sounding much stronger and more assured, the greater use of horns and strings add splendid layers to the sound, altogether a much more grow-up and mature affair. An interesting little history of HNCI can be found here
I know from reading the excellent and helpful track by track article by Tom in The Line of Best Fit that the trilogy that is The Union is clearly an important collection for HNIC. It is in truth, well for me anyway, the most difficult part of the album and in particular the Recidivist middle section. Whilst I am growing to love the trilogy, the Recidivist still feel s like it needed a bit more work and maybe a little more discipline and structure imposed upon the second half of this very personal and raw piece. The final part Into the West is indeed a dense full on gallop off into the proverbial sunset replete with Mexicana horns, pounding drums and everything including the kitchen sink thrown into the mix.
The Quiet Lamb has been more than worth the wait and is certainly worth ordering up from their Label Denovali . A significant piece of work, at times soaring at others almost pastoral, but throughout imbued with an intensity and personality so sadly lacking in much output these days. This is band that deserves a greater audience and a band that promises even better things to come – one of my albums of the year, bless their cotton socks.