The genre-free Crippled Black Phoenix are a musical collective from the UK comprising Dominic Aitchison (Mogwai), Joe Volk (Gonga), Kostas Panagiotou (Panthiest), Charlotte Nicholls and founding member Justin Greaves (Electric Wizard/Iron Monkey/Teeth of Lions Rule Devine)…and more…confused? Me too. Anyway this fine group of players have gravitated on and off over the years towards Geoff Barrow’s (Portishead) State of Art Studio in Bristol and in between other band commitments have managed to craft 2006’s much admired A Love of Shared Disasters, and this year’s 200 Tons of Bad Luck (The Resurrectionists/Night Raider, a double disc box set featuring the songs from 200 Tons along with a wealth of bonus material was also recently released). I’m glad I’ve only been asked to review 200 Tons of Bad Luck and not the full box set, as the 12 tracks on this record provide a full 77 minutes of some of the most intense and diverse music I’ve heard this year on one disc, and to have to face a full double disc set after hearing the single album could be far too daunting.
Anyone who doesn’t sit up and whisper ‘Pink Floyd’ during the opening two minutes of opening track “Burnt Reynolds” (I know, great song title) would need their head examined, the song is a lovely, honest homage to The Floyd from start to finish. Even though the final seconds of the track play with old-time fairground sound effects, it’s still decidedly British. This is then followed by the stomping “Rise Up and Fight,” a late ’70s classic rock thriller complete with John Lord style keyboard wizardry to boot. “Time of Ye Life/Born for Nothing/Paranoid Arm of Narcoleptic Empire” is a 15-minute epic that will explain what I meant by ‘intense’ and ‘diverse.’ It begins with the tail end of some pulsating heartbeats from “Rise Up and Fight” with a spoken word lesson in living life to the fullest, reminiscent of Baz Luhrmann’s “Sunscreen,” followed midway through by a wonderful & romantic instrumental, and ending with some more Floyd and a little post-rock for good measure. It’s impossible to tag-I’ll call it ‘Post-Floyd-Folk’ and be done with it.
“Littlestep” is reminiscent of Pink Floyd again, and it’s lovely and rich. “Crossing the Bar” is probably the best thing on this record, with a sunshine folk fingerpicking acoustic guitar intro which brings in an accompanying kick drum, then mutates into a distorted electronic thumping drowning out the beauty of the guitar, and closing out with three minutes of hypnotic piano playing, all repetitive and dark. All these songs flow into one another like an opera. Alternately, these cinematic tracks would be fit for soundtracking an indie movie.
The album’s downside, if you could call it that, is that it’s quite heavy going and not the cheeriest of recordings. I felt exhausted after the first half, but the fact that it provoked such a strong emotional reaction is part of what I admire about it. The second half of the album features another fairground interlude, “A Real Bronx Cheer,” and more post-rock with some shorter movie sound bites in “444,” and it’s all good stuff before some slightly duller moments ensue towards the end. The album closer is lovely with an accordion leading some baroque instrumentation and creating a lovely soundscape.
There’s a lot more I could say about this record yet part of me feels like I shouldn’t have said anything at all. I feel like I’ve tried to describe something that can’t be described.
There’s just so much going on, it’s not all beautiful and rewarding but its ambition is overwhelming. Someone should make a movie out of it.