Danny Saul – Harsh, Final
As guitarist with Tsuji Giri (Manchester’s biggest and best kept secret ‘almost’ band of recent years, alongside The Sonar Yen), Saul self-released a Steve Albini-recorded album in 2005, with the band promptly self-destructing upon release. After all the tribulations associated with the process of production and shared decision-making, Danny rethought every aspect of how to perform and record with the minimum of intervention or interference; Harsh, Final is the culmination of a bloody minded pursuit for a personal satisfaction in both making music and Doing Things Right. ‘Your Death’ opens the album with softly plucked acoustic guitar, and proceeds to build layers of acoustic and electric guitars into a hazed atmosphere, which suddenly comes into focus as the track s defining chords state that this is a song, and that everything put in place so far is only framework. And in many ways this typifies what makes the record really tick: the fission between the pull of the songs and the musical dynamics working within and yet outside them. Be sure – Danny Saul is very much not a conventional singer-songwriter, with all the compromise and baggage that carries with it.
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These are tunes sensitively drawn, defiantly made, and deliberately too long for both radio and the short attention spans of his peers. Instead we are allowed to revel in the long-form, are left grasping for reference points, brazen novelty long ago discarded as mere trivia. ‘My Escape’ details ”a wall of doubt” with a crumbling, threatened, growling undercarriage barraging the tune, about to collapse beneath the listener at any moment. The album builds to a head on the wonderful ‘Cannonball’, just shy of thirteen minutes, and is bracketed by two shorter pieces ‘(harsh)’ and ‘(final)’, which bring a heady sense of disorientation and an unusual focus to the longer tune resting between them. Check this track and reflect on ”the outcome / we wait / to see”.
‘Harsh, Final’ maintains this pared-down and deliberate atmosphere throughout – recurring themes of death and escape culminate in a cover of a heartfelt lament for a personal loss by Manchester’s Hotpants Romance (think a much more glamorous Shaggs), here reinterpreted as an oppressive and over-possessive love song. Its cumulative build of layered guitar and harmony vocals eventually fades, leaving Saul’s solitary voice reassuring the listener that ”we’ll be OK / you’ll see”, echoing the album as it began, with a single exposed musician [guitar, vocal], indelibly human and unforgettably resonant.