Mancunian musician and poet Gus Fairbairn—the multi-instrumentalist who records and performs under the name Alabaster DePlume—reacts to the contemporary moment with his double album, GOLD. A mix of jazz and spoken word, the sounds are intended to keep the listener on their toes. On each of the tracks he worked with different producers, and in each session a different band was used—though, apparently, this is not unusual for DePlume. The end result is unpredictable and eerie and just plain weird. But good weird.
With 19 songs ranging in duration from one and a half to seven minutes, there’s a lot of variety to be heard. On “I’m Gonna Say Seven,” DePlume sounds very much like Simon and Garfunkel, soft and sincere. Though perhaps the echoing backup vocals are more DePlume’s own sonic terrain than that of the famous folk duo, there is a certain calm to the track that brings “The Sound of Silence” to mind. At other times, he sounds more like the jazz-fusion group, The Comet is Coming—as with the eighth track, “Jerusalem, Palestine.” Saxophone and spacey backing vocals create an unsettling and anxious atmosphere. There is something coming, there is a disturbance, and we don’t know how to fix it yet. That is the interesting unpredictability of DePlume.
With all the chopping up done by the different producers and the veritable legion of musicians (over 20!) on this album, you’d think the sound and vibe would be all over the place. It is and it isn’t. Guitar, saxophone, and those echoey backing vocals cement Gold together. However, when DePlume starts “Fucking Let Them” with a live monologue and then comes in with the band, I am hesitant to continue listening. Many contemporary jazz musicians—like Benjamin Boone, Joy Harjo, etc.—play around with spoken word. But the effect can sometimes have mixed results. Spoken word relies on emotion communicated through how the lyrics are said, but that very emotion—overly emphatic usually—loses its very power by pushing too hard. DePlume does better than most with skirting the edge of becoming saccharine or affected. And still, it’s the musical aspects of “I Will Not Be Safe” and “Don’t Forget You’re Precious” that I’m ultimately drawn to.
That being said, the tracks are well arranged and have a natural, energizing momentum. The guitar notably ties each composition to the next, minimal and often a refrain, repeated and working with DePlume’s chant-like lines superbly. This is when he is at his most convincing and emotional, such as on “Broken Like,” which is meditational, trance-like. It is moving and reminds us to take a look at ourselves and our surroundings. Likewise, GOLD is a reaction to the world. It is a journey through soundscapes made from the emotional and societal environments around us. It is a connecting force that tells its listeners that we are broken by this external disturbance, but we are fixable, able to become better again, internally.
Label: International Anthem
Born in Krasnoyarsk, Russia, Konstantin Nicholas Rega currently attends East Anglia's famous MA in Creative Writing with the Ink, Sweat and Tears Scholarship. He is a professional musician, the former host/producer of Jazz Jams on CSRfm 97.4, and twice a Dan Veach Prize for Younger Poets finalist. He is the Fiction Editor for Crack the Spine and a contributor to The Black Lion Journal. He also blogs.