Loss, by Mull Historical Society
Suggested by Mik Parkin
Reviews of bands and albums like this? They’re tricky.
Most albums have a hook. I’ll know the band, say, despite my constant claims of the opposite. And if I don’t? I’ll pigeonhole, after a rudimentary Google or a nascent listen. I rubber-stamp them with a capital-c-Category, before dipping into my lexicon of cliches, ladling out the tortured epithets like a gumbo of fish heads and Alphabetti Spaghetti.
This is Metal: it thrashes. This is Rap: it shouts, spits. This is Jazz: it does, then it doesn’t. This is Dance: it boots and cats and boots and cats.
But what if they defy such branding? What if they refuse to be handled so roughly? My next port of call is tenuous humour. At first blush, you’d think a band called Mull Historical Society would bear succulent fruit, and you’d be largely correct. I’d planned on riffing on peculiar Appreciation Societies, such as the all-too-real Cloud Appreciation Society or the Roundabout Appreciation Society before moving on to the Mullet Appreciation Society (real) and the Mulligatawny Soup Appreciation Society (sadly fake). I was roughly one hundred words in when I twigged that an Appreciation Society is not a Historical Society, so into the bin it went.
When I’ve no clear mind or motive for my review, it tends to taint my enjoyment of the music. Not in an overt way, mind; it’s more that I’m distracted rather than disdainful. I can’t relax and let the music move me when I’ve an eye on the five-hundred-word musical obituary to come.
That’s the reason, I think, that while I did like this album, I don’t think I loved it.
Mull Historical – not Appreciation, or even Self Preservation – Society is the work of Scottish producer Colin MacIntyre. Loss is the act’s first album, a well-received indie pop release that chronicles Colin’s upbringing on the Isle of Mull. Indie Pop is a thick and fibrous brush with which to tar an album, and in honesty I’d say this veers more towards the brightness of pop and less towards the affectation of Indie.
Brightness is a fine descriptor, as Loss is a genteel and upbeat work despite its darker influences (it sprang from the sudden death of Colin’s father in 1999). It’s a quirky record, simple and strong. Each song is packed with intricate instrumentation, from steel drums to strings to children’s choirs and more. The songs themselves are assured, perhaps a touch indulgent at times, but always entertaining and genuinely warm.
So why my reticence? While I can lay it at the feet of this review as outlined above, that’s not strictly fair. With a nostalgia-heavy sound, leaning towards The Beach Boys, or even Barry Manilow and Bucks Fizz, the pleasure it provides could be labelled basic, maybe even guilty. The songs are very nice, especially the superb standout Watching Xanadu and the rollicking call to arms Mull Appreciation Society, but the cogs are somewhat visible at times, laying the structural integrity bare for all to see. It’s light, and you’ll sing along, but I can’t help but think of Eurovision while doing so.
With eleven songs and nary a clunker to be heard, I’d be churlish to mark low. Loss gets 7/10, but I suspect this number would rise after a few less distracted plays.