Words: Dominic Valvona
David Thomas Broughton ‘Crippling Lack’
Song, By Toad Records, released 4th April 2016
An ambitious undertaking, David Thomas Broughton’s sprawling opus Crippling Lack is both musically and geographically expansive. Recorded trans-continental style with a host of collaborators over the last few years, Broughton, who’s based himself more recently in the capitals of, unbelievably, North and South Korea, has laid down various parts and vocals in France, the UK and the US. Logistically impressive, Crippling Lack is a testament to the DIY ethic and remote collaborative experimentation.
Thematically, release wise, linked to the number three, the sagacious, weary and at times beatific songbook is being released in a triple vinyl format (though it will also be available digitally) by three different labels in three different countries: Volume One by Edinburgh’s Song, By Toad Records on the 4th April, Volume Two by LeNoizeMaker Records in France on the 2nd May, and Volume Three by the Brooklyn label Paper Garden Records on the 6th June.
Demarcated into three parts (again), the entire song collection, if you decide to experience in one sitting, stretches to 1 hour 40 minutes. It features twelve songs in all of varying meticulously and slowly unfurled beauty, with some epics in their own right. The press release separates the album out into a musical journey, beginning with what it calls ‘deceptively approachable pop songs’, moving through a more testing ‘unraveling and disintegrating and barely-stretched fragments’ segment, before ending with a final section that ‘slowly weaves’ all the loose and previous sections together.
Broughton opens his toiled over album with the title track signature, which appears in a longer reprised version later on. A bookend in a manner, ‘Crippling Lack’ lays down the foundations and concerns that inspire Broughton’s pondering prose. Juxtaposing the meditative calming effects of observing the ecological diorama of the riverbank outside his old South Manchester home that faced The Mersey with the empty gestures of love in the modern world, Broughton’s ‘Sanctus’ choral meets plaintive folk elegy borders on the venerable. Every brushed movement up and down the fretboard is magnified, the minimal sparse but no less deeply atmospheric backing lightly played as the highly angelic warbled Antony Hegarty like vocals loftily sail over the top.
Concerned with the “pale warblers in the willow”, Broughton drinks till he’s drunk, raising a proverbial cup to the futility of love on the equally nature trail descriptive ‘Beast’; lyrically influenced in part by his experiences in putting together this collaborative project. Broughton’s West Yorkshire timbre apes the ‘warbler’s’ birdsong as he muses over a Casio keyboard pre-set percussive rhythm, set to the sort of melody that wouldn’t sound out of place on a Waterboys album. Creeping to the most odd of lilting, though serene, melodies ‘Words Of Art’ features the world-weary, mischievous burr of Aidan Moffat: a foil to Broughton’s pining higher register. An admirer or fan if you will of Moffat’s Arab Strap years, he approached the Glaswegian vocalist/musician by chance when they happened to both be performing at the same festival. His distant low descriptive mutterings, some profound others gutter philosophical sneers, seem a good counterbalance to Broughton’s hymn-like operatic. Kooky but subdued and played at a constant lumbering pace, it is one of the album’s most memorable highlights.
By now the steady unrushed sound either intrigues you enough to continue or leaves you cold. Whilst it’s true that you’ll need a certain resolve and endurance to continue, it’s worth the effort. Especially by the time you reach the halfway marker and the diaphanous-pitched hallowed and fluttered introduction of ‘Dot’. Delicate at first but building into a break beat drum pushed anthemic gallop, Broughton’s…well, what can only be described as heart aching vocals point out the contradictions and hypocrisy of someone’s moral high ‘grandstanding’. Without a doubt for me, this is the album’s most outstanding track.
With a rich tapestry of not only vocalists but also adroit musicians on board, American folk artist Sam Amidon lends a suitable yearned violin accompaniment to the gospel like ‘River’. His equally celebrated and gifted wife Beth Orton appears on the penultimate ‘Beast Without You’ Rolling Stones-esque lullaby; adding a veiled harmony that ghosts Broughton’s gentle drifting vocals.
A small ensemble of French players, including Timothée Couteau on cello and Raphaelle Duquesnoy on a multitude of instruments and the double bass, perform an atmospheric and welling emotive service on the three-act spanning ‘Concrete Statement’. The first of a duo of experimental, almost untethered, songs that seem to work out various ideas as it progresses, this and the following ‘I Close My Eyes’ make up, nearly, a third of the album’s running time. Unwinding, often in a strange mechanical fashion the first of these tracks could perhaps have benefited from some editing. ‘I Could Close My Eyes’ is similarly overlong but seems to be balancing on the edge of a vortex, creeping and piquing our interest with gusts of improvised, swelling and sometimes tumultuous musicality.
A calming influence is restored over the album’s final run of songs: a dainty return, more stirring and shimmery, to the riverbank on ‘Crippling Lack Part 2’; a hard won traverse on ‘Gulf’; and the disturbed bizarre ruminations of the Luke Drozd guesting ‘Plunge Of The Dagger’ promise to never rise above a purposeful and steady candor. The last of these offers the London artist a soft guitar strummed platform to poetically look death in the face, after what appears to be a ‘plunged dagger’ love riposte. Rather than, as it may sound depressive, it’s actually a near-comforting attempt at black humour; the protagonist choosing to drink himself into a gratified cloudy lemonade death, as he is teetotal: the volume enough to send him off to the choir immemorial.
Broughton’s magnum opus, Crippling Lack is an impressive feat. Cohesive and flowing along to a sophisticated backing, sonorous with the artist’s venerable travailed voice, and his acerbic foils wit. The album’s scope is immense even though it meanders to a, mostly, folk signature and gentle accompaniment. It is nothing short of outstanding.