Sometimes production and arrangements go hand in hand. Eli August and the Abandoned Buildings’ Is This Darkness knows which instruments to use for a song and how to record them for the right effect. In this case, there’s just the right amount of reverb to make a BIG SOUND. It opens up the songs to make them sound like they were shot for a widescreen CinemaScope western.
My initial thought was that it sounds like a Phil Spector Wall of Sound production. Further listening made me realize that it was more like Shadow Morton. Let me explain. Both were known for producing 60’s girl groups. Spector massed instruments for songs like “Da Doo Ron Ron” by the Crystals. Morton implemented particular sounds, like the squealing of tires on “Leader of the Pack” by the Shangri-Las. Is This Darkness can layer on the instruments, but it also knows when to leave room.
Having heard acoustic versions at August’s solo show at Uncommon Ground, I can attest to the change via instrumentation. “The War” laments the readjustment a soldier must go through. I’d hold it up against Motorhead’s “1916” or the Pogues’ take on Eric Bogle’s “And The Band Played Waltzing Matilda.” The Abandoned Buildings add melancholy clarinet and the haunting vocals of Molly Hebert-Wilson. The song is punctuated by military snare tattoo. Whereas it could be gimmicky, it takes a nod from Morton and makes it completely appropriate.
“Light in This Life” drums and drones like Scots punks the Skids’ “Hurry On Boys” or
Big Country’s “In a Big Country” (which was formed by the first band’s Stuart Adamson). “A Waltz After Midnight” contains a hint of Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Flight of the Bumblebee,” but shifts tone with a few effects. There’s ghostliness in the delay applied to August’s voice. Compressed vocals sound like a memory coming from a Victrola horn or drive-in speaker. There are even a few muted chords that match the sound with a (non-funky) chicken scratch.
There are two songs that take a different approach. “Alive Again” simply lets a spare piano accompany August, bringing out the richness in his voice. It gives room to wander around in the song and notice the nuances and phrasing. “Misery” finds him accompanies by piano and Celtic harp. The room in the song brings out the vibrato (or possibly a quaver) in his voice.
“A Departure” concludes the album with guitar that reminds me of the shimmering introduction to the Velvet Underground’s “Who Loves the Sun” or maybe Talking Heads’ “(Nothing But) Flowers”. Talking heads may be more apt, as the congas add a tropical groove.
Is This Darkness is available at https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/is-this-darkness/id1153300874.