Offbeat guitar music, melded with keyboards, percussion, an eclectic mix of other instruments including bagpipes, and sampled found sounds and voices
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‘Carcass’, a solo album by Lester Square, is almost entirely instrumental, which will come as a welcome unsurprise to students of his seminal band — The Monochrome Set. Some of the gems created by The Monochrome Set almost 40 years ago were instrumentals, such as ‘The Puerto Rican Fence Climber’ or ‘The Etcetera Stroll’ on debut album ‘Strange Boutique’, as well as ‘405 Lines’ and ‘In Love, Cancer?’ on the follow up ‘Love Zombies’, or ‘March Of The Eligible Bachelors’ on their third album from 1982.
That these lyric-free numbers were Lester Square’s pet projects was given away by the title of the B-side to classic single ‘Eine Symphonie Des Grauens’ — an instrumental called simply ‘Lester Leaps In’. As if in homage to his own young genius, reflecting on the passage of time, one of the tracks on ‘Carcass’ is called ‘Lester Rides Out’. It starts with a galloping and neighing horse, racing on with a twanging guitar, Hawaiian strings and brass.
Lester Square’s beautifully jangly-wangly lead guitar, strumming or picking but always resonant, was at the heart of The Monochrome Set’s instrumentals (and songs) and that is still largely the case on his new work. The press handout for ‘Carcass’ quotes several music critics — including yours truly at GIGsoup — praising the “psychedelic edginess to his clean lines”, the way he “sprinkled sharp-edged fills into the sprawling melodic arches”, his “exqisiten melodiebögen” and, of course, the fact that his “guitar style influenced The Smiths, the Glasgow and Edinburgh post-punk scenes, and then their successors Franz Ferdinand”.
“Kind of groovy and danceable, but extremely bookish as well: very clever,” Graham Coxon says. Lester Square’s lead vocalist and guitar acolyte in The Monochrome Set was the suave Bid, who is less effusive than the Blur guitar ace: “Just a lot of annoying flourishes.” Dark humour has always been at the core of Lester Square’s art. He may be Canadian by birth, as Tom Hardy, but the quirkiness and fun in the arrangements feel entirely British. This is offbeat guitar music, melded with keyboards, percussion, an eclectic mix of other instruments including bagpipes, and sampled found sounds and voices. The only thing close to it produced in recent years is ‘Lost Horizons’ by Lemon Jelly.
The barnstorming opening title track of ‘Carcass’ is a classic combination of Lester Square’s guitar wizardry and ’60s-style organ, augmented by a snappy rhythm section. It ends with a buzzing fly, a jokey reference to the album artwork. The LP’s only song is ‘Time Flies’, featuring vocals by Helen McCookerybook of The Chefs. It’s a sweeping, hippyish, folky tune based on a keyboard riff. After a Middle East-sounding chant, a guitar solo buzzes gently to jet plane synths until the number fades out to a duel between strumming acoustic and vibrato electric guitars. A reprise (‘Slight Return’) of the track ends the album, framing it as an instrumental that has a movie soundtrack quality.
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The boudoir synth pop of ‘Golden Elevator’ is the most Lemon Jelly-ish track of all, the gentle and mellow vibe broken by jarring samples. Again, sampled voices and sounds break into the big cinematic sound, pairing jaunty keyboards with Lester Square’s unmistakeable guitar style, of ‘Strangelove’ and ‘La Monstrueuse Parade’ (as ambitious as post-live The Beatles). Lovely, gentle harpsichord is used on the classically orchestral epic ‘Newington Green’ — along with brass, woodwind, other keys — and on ‘Trudi French’, which comes to be dominated by whammy stick guitar but starts and finishes with strange whooshing synth. The oddest track of the whole oddball collection is the ambient Celtic synth-dirge-with-birdsong of ‘Pibroch’, complete with bagpipe and big bass drum.
The blurb for ‘Carcass’ written by a certain ‘Johnny Besoin’ — which would perhaps have been sleeve notes on an old vinyl release — says the LP is “a product of its times; a collection, if you will, of protest instrumentals”. Whether they are “sound poems to chart these extraordinary times… in equal measure poignant, sarcastic, angry and hopeful” or not, they are a welcome addition to Lester Square’s opus. He was the original guitarist in Adam and The Ants, so his place in rock-pop history is assured. And he will play with The Monochrome Set as they help cement their place in that history by playing 1980’s ‘Strange Boutique’ and ‘Love Zombies’ in their entirety over a weekend at the Lexington in London next February. As GIGsoup said in March last year, if absentee lead guitarist Lester Square comes back, perhaps The Monochrome Set will finally get that breakthrough moment they have always deserved.
‘Carcass’ is available now via Cherry Red Records and bandcamp. The full track-listing for the album is…
01 – Carcass
02 – Time Flies
03 – Golden Elevator
04 – Strangelove
05 – Newington Green
06 – La Monstrueuse Parade
07 – Trudi French
08 – Lester Rides Out
09 – Pibroch
10 – Time Flies (Slight Return)
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