Last month saw us re-introduced to the London-based duo Pet Deaths, whose exquisite single Wind Up Bird gave a taster of this, their debut album. As the story goes, collaborators Liam Karima and Graeme Martin united over a shared love of musical and literary influences while both coming to terms with a need for big-city orientation, having moved to the capital in 2017. “Leonard Cohen and Jiro Yoshihara was a major talking point when we first met,” states Karima.
From the pair’s regular sessions, ideas began to germinate and finally the resulting album, to the top of the hill and roll… saw the light of day this week.
Accompanied by its stop-motion video of minimalist art, also directed by Karima, Wind Up Bird is an understated delight. Syncopated visually and musically, it heralded a duo who were willing to conceive ideas in widescreen and remove the blinkers to behold a world of creative possibilities. The song emerges from reverb-laden cyclical guitar and lone shaker percussion, into mesmeric dovetailing vocals. Pet Deaths aren’t alone in looking to a more pastoral and folk outlook for inspiration; few acts of late however have done so in such a considered and thematic way.
“The duo introduce unassuming drones and vocal harmonies which usher Liam Karima’s subtle vocals into focus, while swaddling them with layer upon layer of musical subtlety.”
to the top of the hill and roll… is no brutal assault. Each track slowly unfurls, often from tentative beginnings, perhaps with softly picked acoustic guitar or a gentle piano motif. Gradually, the duo introduce unassuming drones and vocal harmonies which usher Liam Karima’s subtle vocals into focus, while swaddling them with layer upon layer of musical subtlety. The album’s concept signifies the heady beginnings, slow decline and inevitably bitter end of “a ropey relationship”. Karima takes up the theme: “you both feel it, connection is being lost, we lose energy and patience and things start to repeat themselves, like a wind-up toy.”
The other previously released tracks benefit from being heard in the context of the album; the stark, morose piano of The Bats in Your Hair bristles with intensity, while gentle waltz At the Bottom of the Hill provides warmer caresses. Fused harmonies offer up the refrain of “lonely twilight, I know you’ve heard this before, no need for luck anymore” against an uplifting chord progression and cascading piano that truly raises the hairs. I Never Saw it Coming shows Pet Deaths’ more experimental side, an innocuous piece gradually descending into the discord of unsettling scratchy strings.
“Meet Me at the Avalanche builds purposefully before ending on a euphoric drone haze that refuses to serve as a full stop.”
Deeper into the album sit sibling-centrepoints If Only Bad Things Could Happen and Lola or Lolita; the former diverting into the kind of retro-flavours often fancied by Richard Hawley. Did You Lose Your Silver Mind in Nevada then distils the mood of the whole album, as Karima recounts the tale of a chance encounter with a stranger while leaving a loved one behind. Closing song Meet Me at the Avalanche builds purposefully before ending on a euphoric drone haze that refuses to serve as a full stop, despite the dead halt ending.
to the top of the hill and then roll… is conceived as an all-through listen and should be consumed as such. Pet Deaths’ first foray is a promising one with much to commend it; there is concept, detail, imagination and experimentation on show here, with several gorgeous goosebump moments.