3am, the Beautiful, the BittersweetRating: 5/5
Well, of course it was going to get a five. Anybody who’s heard me wax lyrical about Vex or Septembre knows that I would probably give a bootleg recording of Terry Abbott taking a dump a 5/5, so. I’ve already owned most of these songs for about a year now, because I illegally downloaded them ages ago off their myspace (and in higher quality mp3s than the ones available for free now, I might add), but there are also some exciting new additions.
Right, first the boring stuff- Fears are an electronic band, the final incarnation of Terry Abbot’s musical project that began in the late 90s with Mushroom, and later, Vex Red. After his alt-rock, post-Vex outfit Septembre folded sometime back in 2006, Terry began playing solo shows armed with just a keyboard, some guitar pedals and his Macbook. This live electronics-based performance was thrilling, and it’s no coincidence that I often mention local(ish) hero Charlie Barnes in the same breath as Toluene. After a few shows, Terry clearly began to feel some limitations, and brought Sept’s (legendarily mental) drummer Sammy Lee into the fold on an electronic drumkit.
This new band, christened Fears, re-invigorated the Toluene material, and now, 3am, the Beautiful, the Bittersweet is the finished product from this collaboration. Sure, it was never going to be as good or as earth-shaking as their live performance, and yes, it would have been nice to see ‘kiss kiss bang bang’ on the tracklist, but a re-worked ‘Le Beau Monde’ makes up for that shortcoming nicely. Two previously unheard tracks make an appearance- ‘Pins & Needles’ and ‘As the End Begins’; they are both of consistent enough quality to keep the flow of the album intact, but they aren’t going to steal the show from old favourites such as ‘My My’ (featured on the Exploding in Sound 2009 comp), ‘River’ and ‘My English Heart’.
‘…And I’m Sorry’ even makes an appearance- some Septembre fans will recognise this cut- except it’s been given an electro-industrial makeover, to leave it (like the rest of the album) bearing some resemblance to Year Zero-era Nine Inch Nails. Terry’s voice, as ever, is heartbreakingly good, and the brilliantly realised instrumentation, multi-layered and texturally diverse, beats and vocals come together immediately in the best track on the album, ‘Start Fires’ (formerly ‘Non Participation’), which contains possibly my favourite lyric ever:
As a boy I dreamt of levitation
Highest hopes but lowest expectations
Just sublime. If artistry is to win out over processed club tunes out to strangle our brains, then this is the future of music. If not, it’s a hauntingly beautiful swan-song.