Desperate Journalist - In Search of the Miraculous - Albums - Reviews - Soundblab

Desperate Journalist - In Search of the Miraculous

by Simon Heavisides Rating:8 Release Date:2019-02-22
Desperate Journalist - In Search of the Miraculous
Desperate Journalist - In Search of the Miraculous

Miraculous: something unexpected and wonderful, of the nature of a miracle. 

It's an apt title after all isn't that why we're here? Looking for something that moves or provokes, or maybe even changes your life? While I can't claim to have read the book that shares the title (by Russian philosopher P D Ouspensky), one of its more famous quotes (hey, it was good enough for Bowie...) hangs heavy over these vivid, compelling songs, 'It's only when we realise that life has taken us nowhere that it begins to have meaning'.

I never quite anticipated the indie post-punk world becoming such a crowded market. Now you really need to stand out or be lost amidst a wash of competent music that often only just rises above the level of pastiche, enjoyable but lacking true substance or inspiration. Not only competing with the current crop of bands but also returning heroes from the past. Desperate Journalist make a forceful case for relevance, their live shows demonstrating an ability to rise above the chatter, draw in the curious and then burn straight through to your soul. Let's be honest not many come close to that. They manage to create a forceful emotional intimacy while seemingly keeping the audience at arms-length, the contradiction creating another layer of tension, and as we know tension helps make great music.

Part of Jo Bevan's skill lies in getting under the skin of the mundane world, one we can easily recognise, and finding the mystery within. I have no idea, nor does it matter, whether she inhabits these songs  or simply the characters in them, it does seem sometimes that there's a gender bias where female artists are expected to fill their music with their own lives whereas males are allowed the detachment of observers. Desperate Journalist's songs are like puzzles where you're given some of the pieces but have to fill in the blanks yourself, just as the protagonists seek and struggle for some kind of resolution that remains just out of reach, so should we, that's the way life is. That we're treated with a certain respect as listeners is of course a good thing, unless you're the kind of person who after all these years still harbours a grudge over what you felt was that frustratingly open-ended Sopranos finale... 

Tracking back to the aforementioned quote, the mood here is rich with the grit, grime, and disappointment of life but also full of the defiance and celebration that often exists in virtually the same moment. Look no further than the bittersweet autumnal Cedars where the trees never blossom and the air is heavy with the feeling of possibilities left unrealised, vocals tinged with an indie folk pleading. 

Rob Hardy works hard, it's no surprise a second guitarist has joined the band for live work. As a guitar player he seems determined to do what he can to avoid allegations of jangling by numbers and pushes and pulls at the songs, adding attack, texture and nuance in a way that echoes but doesn't simply repeat the work of his illustrious predecessors. It can't be easy carrying the weight of the inevitable comparisons but it doesn't seem to trouble him. The result is at times something approaching an immersive indie 'wall of sound', but as they show on Argonauts there's no fear of stripping the sound right back to piano and voice.

It's a breathlessly compact ten-track album that flies by without the hindrance of filler. International Waters hinges on an epic but unshowy riff that scythes through the song. The ominously sleek Girl of the Houses draws us in with the declaration, or warning, that, 'I burn bridges...' Satellite is an urgent rush propelled by Caz Hellbent's heartbeat drums and Simon Drowner's pulsing bass, both providing space for some scorching guitar, circular riffs spiralling into the distance. 

As a third album, In Search of the Miraculous sees the band doing everything they do so well, but making it just that bit better, bolder and deeper adding a more cinematic edge. These are songs written with the hard-won knowledge that everything we have we will one day lose and therefore it's all the more vital that we drag ourselves into the present. If that sounds solemn, don't worry, this music seethes with a defiant acknowledgment of the sadness of things, but never gives in to despair, these songs soar. 

As the book of the same name also reminds us, 'when one realises one is asleep, at that moment one is already half-awake'. Desperate Journalist would like to disturb your slumber, you should let them.

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