Through the Window Pane
Polydor / Fantastic Plastic
uillemots are a four-piece band led by Fyfe Dangerfield (songs, singing, piano, organ). The other three members are Rical Caran (drums, dresses, beards), Aristazabal Hawkes (double-bass, glamour, between-song smirking), and MC Lord Magrao (Brazilian vibes, sweating, guitars, typewriters, assorted strange noises). Some of their names may be false. They play phantasmagorically jazz-inflected indie-pop and they are here to save the world.
Across the length of Through the Window Pane you will encounter an orchestra, and a colliery band, and guitar played with a drill, and a double-bass, and some parping brass, and lovelorn ballads (occasionally played on some kind of ancient Casio device), and a couple of the greatest, oddest pop songs of the decade, and something approaching drum ‘n’ bass as played live and acoustic by idiot savants, and a host of other wonders before the whole thing finishes with a twelve-minute number that starts off like Vanessa Carlton and ends up in the slums of São Paulo leading a samba band through the climax of West Side Story as directed by Lars Von Trier, and which might just be the best album closer ever. Seriously. We are, despite the Pavlovian response of some people when faced with a disarmingly charming white guy playing a piano, not in the same universe as Coldplay anymore.
And praise be for that. Mainstream and (wannabe) alternative British rock has, over the last two decades, become so conservative, limited, and predictable that Guillemots don’t just seem like a breath of fresh air and an injection of zest, they seem like a revolution.
So basically, we should be thankful for Guillemots, because Through the Window Pane is a pleasure from start to finish, and one of the most creative, musical and genuinely moving records to come from these shores in an age. It is produced absolutely lovingly, mixed and mastered to sound open, natural, dynamic, and exciting. In a world of target-marketed AOR slop and bottom-feeding corporate teenage rebellion, their contemporaries are the likes of the sublime Patrick Wolf and… precious few others, sadly.
One of the main joys of Guillemots is the sheer range of influences they’re calling on. Lots of bands namecheck a host of cool inspirations, but few ever seem to take on board their idols’ actual creative lessons—Coldplay jacking a Kraftwerk riff but ostentatiously forgetting everything else the German pioneers achieved being a case in point.
Not so with Guillemots. The title track, for instance, attains one of the most genuinely psychedelic peaks I’ve experienced in years when Fyfe’s vocals are suddenly spun backwards atop a bed of jazz percussion. It’s like hearing “Eight Miles High” for the first time again and realizing that Crosby and McGuinn weren’t just digging The Beatles, they were channeling Coltrane. Guillemots are just as likely to vamp off Debussy or Ornette Coleman as they are the Fab Four, but their educated magpie-ism never seems contrived or jarring.
This largely comes down to the band’s irresistible charisma. Witness the beguiling pop-poetics of “Made Up Love Song #43” or the genuinely swooning romanticism of “Red Wings” (starring the aforementioned colliery band and Joan As Policewoman on guest vocals). Take something like “Annie, Let’s Not Wait,” which starts out by pretending to be the worst, cheesiest song ever written, slowly transmogrifies into something approaching good, and then takes an unexpected left-turn down Samba Alley just in time to become brilliant.
If there is a fault with Through the Window Pane it’s that occasionally there is too much emphasis placed on musical ideas and startling juxtapositions and not enough on songs; the lavishly-orchestrated “We’re Here” could arguably do with a stronger chorus to justify its grandiose arrangement and initial melody, for instance. But then you remember the vapid, barren, accountancy-rock hell of the likes of Keane and Hard-Fi, and any perceived sins that Guillemots may make are absolved in the blink of an eye. People who aren’t mentally equipped to deal with Guillemots’ creativity may cry foul of the “weird noises”, but there are no “weird noises” here that you wouldn’t have found on a Beatles or Beach Boys record made between 1966 and 1969. The comment is just a sign of how far down the road of musical conservatism that we have come in the last forty years.
Guillemots are constructing their own universe and inviting interested parties to join them within it. I can’t remember the last time a band did that so effectively and so invitingly.