Now, I’m not one for mixed messages so let’s clarify a few things. Firstly, mylittlebrother are a collective ensemble from Cumbria, and not my younger sibling. Secondly, “We’re All Gonna Die!” isn’t recommended simply because the outlook is generally bleak – well, not that bleak. And thirdly, this five-track suite of songs is more likely to elevate you than deflate you.
The band is the brainchild of songwriter Will Harris who leads from the front on piano and vocals. We know quite a lot about Will and his songs here on 1320Radio, having already warmed to previous EP outings and last year’s album release, If We Never Came Down. His penchant is the art of the melodic pop cocktail with a dash of bitterness and a pinch of spiced rock.
Here, he’s been mixing it up with noted musical polymath Scott Bennett to produce some re-workings of older songs and a couple I hadn’t heard before. The involvement of Bennett is remarkable when you consider his long association with Brian Wilson (yes, that Brian Wilson), and his status as a go-to multi-instrumentalist to the stars. Perhaps, he felt that the Lake District might offer something a little left-field, but that seems unlikely given his track record with BW. I suspect it was the songs. If there’s one thing Harris has it’s the songs.
Bennett’s cv may well be further enriched by this collaboration with Harris and his cohort, because he’s found contemporary English pop that is genuinely descended from its most aristocratic mid-sixties antecedents. BBC Introducing’s Tom Robinson (yes, that Tom Robinson) was an early champion of Harris’ idiosyncratic distillation of all things historically pop, dating from the moment that the pirates jumped ship to the current era of instant re-invention on Soundcloud.
More than that, Harris is drawn to the quality end of pop song writing with tunes that don’t always do what they’re told, a vocal that doesn’t conform to expectations and lyrical irony that makes you wonder where the story is going. He often reaches the same end-point in the manner of say, Ray Davies, the kind of writer who keeps you listening but leaves you wondering where he’s coming from.
Julie’s Game is a case in point as a pseudo bossa-nova that plays a little like a lo-fi Poison Ivy with a dry, laconic vocal. Bennett does a great job of allowing Harris to announce himself as the author, and then go on to embroider the tale with insightful instrumentation in an artful arrangement.
Steve is a Harris song that has been around the block and back, but it’s not surprising that they’ve chosen to re-visit it on this makeover. It never loses its charm as an inverted love story where the protagonist is having a heart-to heart with the interloper who’s stealing his girlfriend.
This arrangement of Steve could, I think, be described as Bacharachian, a term that I just invented, and I hope will find its way into school text books. Bennett’s skill here is to make the reference lightly, thus avoiding the twin pitfalls of parody and homage. Add a garnish of swirling, smiley harmony into the mix and the tune is sweetened just enough to take the edge off the bitter pill of the lyric.
The opener, We’re All Gonna Die, is there to reel you in with Harris’ multiple melodic hooks and Bennett’s finest, hand-made instrumental lures – listen for that spidery guitar wandering over the verse. Both men cannot resist a good chorus, a quirky narrative and rich harmonic adornment. The track showcases their greatest strengths, for sure, but it also demonstrates that the best pop music is made by those who love it most.
That brings me to Obvious, a standout tune that connects early rock n roll balladry to sophisticated alt-country lamentation in one seamless arrangement. On this song, there is swirling pedal-steel-to-die-for wrapped around a swooning vocal from Harris. Bennett has captured some of the innate vulnerability in Will Harris’ singing, and the whole recording converges in a location similar to Richard Hawley’s Coles Corner. It’s a wee triumph, and it all rather vindicates the keen-eared pundits (me) who were first to declare that Harris’ writing has something of the classic about it.
Michael S. Clark