Our Daily Bread 275: Thomas Nation ‘Battle Of The Grumbles’

June 4, 2018

LP REVIEW/ WORDS: DOMINIC VALVONA


Thomas Nation   ‘Battle Of The Grumbles’    Faith & Industry,   1st June 2018

Fixed intently on the current anguishes of identity in a post-Brexit voted England, yet bleaching his 1960s bucolic and 1970s lounge (erring towards yacht rock almost) imbued songbook with nostalgia, the lyrics themselves read as augurs yet embedded on parchment, Blue House front-man James Howard weaves a diaphanous if plaintively foreboding chronicle of the past and present.

Creating a whole new persona as Thomas Nation, his commitment to a hazy timeless sound, both rustic and ambitious, goes as far as using only his rough mono mixes; undeveloped and left in their most honest, purest form. You won’t be surprised to learn that Howard has also released his Nation debut, Battle Of The Grumbles, on cassette tape: A gimmick in keeping with the trend in recent years to find ever more physically tactile, nostalgic and unique ways to gain attention and appeal to (I assume, as we’re the largest consumers of it) a pre-internet generation (which means the majority of the population). Though never a fan of cassettes (recording quality and durability most importantly) this one has been put together neatly, sporting as it does just one of the many references to England’s ‘green and pleasant’ legacy with an anonymous, almost cartoonish (like a stagey Commodore 64 computer game cover), illustrated scene from the 16th century ‘Battle of the Spurs’ – when Imperial troops (that’s the Holy Roman Empire teaming up with England) under the command of our very own ol’ Henry VIII and Maximilian I won a victory at the siege of Thérouanne after seeing off an attack from the, enemies at the time, French cavalry. Just a minor skirmish in the convoluted drawn-out Italian Wars that dragged most of the Europe continent into a sectarian vortex of violence, Henry, still at this point very much the able warrior king of his burgeoning reign, but soon to split from the Catholic Church to found his own, fought as part of the Holy League against the papacy and France. Included I assume for its links to the catalytic moment when a schism emerged at the heart of Tudor period Europe, but also the start of that move towards a separate church, the Church Of England, the vestiges, icons and music of which permeate throughout this album.

Recorded we’re told in just over four days, earlier this year at the home studio of label-mate John Johanna (as an aside, his latest LP, I’ll Be Ready When The Great Day Comes is brilliant and highly recommended) in Norfolk woodlands, Battle Of The Grumbles trembles and radiantly, if in a gauze-y veil, echoes the idyllic surroundings it was produced in. Intentionally achingly nostalgic, if resigned at the “unpleasant land” where “invasions seem to come from within”, Howard beautifully yearns like the Beta Band at the Tudor court and early Pink Floyd on the opening, sun-dappled parish orchid ballad ‘Turn And Face The Sea’. In a similar venerable setting ‘Hold My World’ merges a Reformation Popol Vuh with folk troubadour, and the chorister resonating ‘Tour Of The Grounds’ could be an English gospel version of The Byrds ‘The Christian Life’.

Changing the musical direction, ‘This Field’ features both a spoken word tour guide and Howard’s ghostly repeated chorus, wistfully making a point about heritage and ownership to a late 70s MOR like soft rock beat meets Aidan Moffat malady, whilst kooky subtle breaths of what sounds like synth, allude to White Town on the plucked ‘The Worry Men’. The grand finale, ‘Around The Corner And Down The Way’, is a hushed nine-minute poetically despondently opus rich in observational mini-dioramas of childhood experienced England and disillusion (“Fortune cookies that come free with the meal from The Dragon, hold a message that says: Believe that nothing is beyond your contempt whilst consider that everything is.”) that features wafting bending Harrison guitar lines, plucked from Polynesia, and again, that essence of country valley Englishness, a reverent COE of a stirring finish. This curtain call, with its repeating melancholic but beautifully cooed “times not on your side”, and almost evanescent follow on, “well not yet”, rings with certain hope that perhaps nothing is set in stone.

A gentle spirit, James Howard creates a pastoral nostalgic journey filled with augurs, despair and disillusion but always diaphanous. The first of what Howard hopes will be an annual ‘pilgrimage’, the Thomas Nation incarnation is a cerebral wonder through the essence of Englishness, questioning and probing the psyche as it meanders through the psychogeography and heart of the countryside.




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2 Responses to “Our Daily Bread 275: Thomas Nation ‘Battle Of The Grumbles’”

  1. […] Keita  ‘Cofiwch Dryweryn’  Review Thomas Nation  ‘Hold My World’  Review The Lancashire Hustlers  ‘Consider Me’  Review Alex Stolze  ‘Way Out’ […]

  2. […] A gentle spirit, James Howard creates a pastoral nostalgic journey filled with augurs, despair and disillusion but always diaphanous. The first of what Howard hopes will be an annual ‘pilgrimage’, the Thomas Nation incarnation is a cerebral wonder through the essence of Englishness, questioning and probing the psyche as it meanders through the psychogeography and heart of the countryside. Full review… […]

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