This Mortal Coil - Filigree & Shadow - Albums - Reviews - Soundblab

This Mortal Coil - Filigree & Shadow

by Jeff Penczak Rating:9 Release Date:2018-10-26
This Mortal Coil - Filigree & Shadow
This Mortal Coil - Filigree & Shadow

Named after a song on Texas blues/psych band Fever Tree’s eponymous 1968 debut, the second of 4AD’s compilations featuring various combinations of its in-house stable of artists is a slight improvement over its predecessor. For starters, it doesn’t have the ominous black cloud of Cocteau Twin Robin Guthrie’s vehement opposition to 4AD label head Ivo Watts-Russell’s decision to attribute It’ll End In Tears’ most memorable track, ‘Song To The Siren’ to This Mortal Coil when it was clearly a Cocteau Twins track (which they frequently performed in their live shows). Watts-Russell subsequently regretted his decision, admitting in the Martin Aston’s 4AD bio Facing The Other Way, “I know now I should have released ‘Song To The Siren’ as a Cocteau Twins song.” The song selections were also stronger, the performances more heartfelt and emotional and, the decision to expand the concept to a double album allowed for between-song instrumental sorbets concocted by Watts-Russell and producer/engineers Johns Fryer and Turner. These offered a breather from the admittedly depressing singer/songwriter selections, again chosen from Watts-Russell’s mental mix tape of longtime favourites by the likes of Van Morrison, Tom Rapp/Pearls Before Swine, Judy Collins, Tim Buckley (twice), and Gene Clark, along with various permutations of his artiste stable covering tracks by other 4AD acts.

Future Banshee, Martin McCarrick’s classical opener ‘Velvet Belly’ sets a sombre-yet-elegant mood and Breathless vocalist Dominic Appleton’s emotionally wrought reading of Tom Rapp’s Pearls Before Swine classic ‘The Jeweler’ arguably surpasses the original in the heart-tugging sweepstakes. The Rutkowski sisters (Louise and Deirdre, from Glaswegian soul popsters Sunset Gun)’s angelic choir backing is a brilliant touch. Cocteau Twin Simon Raymonde recorded several gorgeous, moody instrumentals (in fact, Fryer nicknamed the best, ‘Ivy & Neet’ ‘Moody Simon’), while Dif Juz guitarist David Curtis offers a brilliant Vini Reilley impression on the stunning Durutti Column-ish ‘Meniscus’, itself an excerpt from Curtis’s stab at Breathless’s ‘Pride’.

Raymonde’s delicate short intro (22 seconds) ‘Tears’ sets the mood for Appleton and the Rutkowski’s return on the eerie ‘Tarantula’, a cover of the B-side of 4AD artist Colourbox’s debut single. Vibraphonic vocalist Alison Limerick pulls out all the stops in a gut-wrenching interpretation of Judy Collins’s ‘My Father’ that again arguably out drains Collins’s original of all its emotional weight. Raymonde’s piano accompaniment and the ubiquitous violin backing from returnee Gina Ball assure no dry eyes in the house.

Appleton and a full choir including the Rutkowskis turn Gene Clark’s ‘Strength of Strings’ into an ominous, but rather elegiac haunted tour de force, and the Scottish sisters’ two centerpieces, Buckley’s ‘Morning Glory’ and the obscure ‘I Want To Live’ (from folk rockers Gary Ogan and Bill Lamb’s 1972 Portland album on Elektra, one of Ivo’s favourite labels) still have me wondering why Ivo never signed them for their own 4AD album.

Ivo and Fryer’s tugboat ferry sound effects masquerading as ‘A Heart Of Glass’ is one of the album’s spookiest performances, sounding like a cross between Moondog and Eno overrun by a didgeridoo, and the ever-puzzling cover of ‘Alone’ (from Wire guitarist Colin Newman’s solo album A To Z and later used much more effectively in the Silence of The Lambs soundtrack in its original version) sounds like someone’s been listening to too much German industrial quackery like Faust or Einstürzende Neubauten. The Dif Juz/Wolfgang Press confab ‘The Horizon Bleeds and Sucks Its Thumb’ is as noisy and head rattling as its source bands would suggest, while the below single’s flip, Talking Heads’ ‘Drugs’ finds Alison Limerick struggling to shout over Colourbox’s Steven Young’s headache-inducing drum programming. But the album ends on a pensive note, with a continuation of ‘Thaïs’’s helicopter wings gradually fading into the distance (actually Ivo’s loopy electronics) and we’re softly transfixed and transferred across the sky on a wave of cumulous cotton candy clouds.

Still, not everything works, such as the surprising choice for the aforementioned single, fronted by the enigmatic avant-garde electronic treatment Jean gives to Van Morrison’s ‘Come Here My Love’. It’s a headscratcher only Ivo could defend. Ditto, the abrasive, completely out-of-place ‘At First, And Then’ from Dead Can Dance collaborator Peter Ulrich, a percussive headache waiting to happen and the only track Ivo did not specifically commission for the album. And the title track is an anonymous swatch of electronic noodling that’s rather embarrassing. Also, Dutch performance artist Richenel is drowned in a lot of hooey, aimless guitar wanking (courtesy Chris Pye), and monotonous electronics whilst wrestling with the insignificant late-period Quicksilver Messenger Service track ‘Fire Brothers’. His nearly a capella reading of Buckley’s ‘I Must Have Been Blind’ sounds like a Felt instrumental backing early fumblings from Antony Hegerty (who admits to being a huge fan of the This Mortal Coil discography, and one can hear a lot of his Johnsons throughout the three TMC albums). But if you enjoyed the debut, this one is more adventurous and eclectic and sets the stage for the stunning finale, Blood a few years down the road.


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