Well one thing’s for sure, Strange Part Of The Country ain’t no dance album. Instead we’re in the realms of Nick Cave and warped lo-fi experimentation on the hinterland of blues and folk, with Phil Conil (not to be confused with a French DJ of the same name) contributing vocals and guitars, both acoustic and electric, and yer go-to maestro of the low notes Danny Thompson on stand-up bass. There’s piano and other stuff on here too, but don’t ask me who’s responsible for what. And although the album only came my way recently, I've reason to believe it's been kicking around for a decade.
The title of the opening track, ‘Dog Meat Stew’, offers a sense of the vibe here. Conil strums away on acoustic guitar while intoning a repetitive descending melody in husky
|Phil Conil goes for a suitably bohemian look|
There’s delicacy on a track like ‘Years Between’ though. Thompson supplies some subtle, deep bass playing to go along with Conil’s minimalist strums of acoustic guitar, drums and keys gradually emerge, and there’s an appealing chorus you can fall into. ‘Time Settles’ similarly leans on faint acoustic and foregrounded bass, with wistful, breathy singing and hints of other sounds in the background – is it a voice, a recorder, a synth?
The most immediate song on offer is ‘Round Midnight’, which drove me nuts for a while with naggingly familiar snatches of melody. What it reminds me of, I eventually decided, is the opening to Beck’s (no, not Jeff – the other one) ‘Nicotine And Gravy’, and though it doesn’t have Beck’s dance beats it’s still rhythmically interesting underneath Conil’s harsh vocal and a burst of jagged electric guitar.
‘After The Hole’ feels like more of a collage, opening with tinkling piano notes as a precursor to some doomy drum beats and sparkles of guitar, while Conil’s voice veers from a droned hum to clear, drawn out high notes, and the drums return after fading away. There are even what sound like ripples of harp to add more texture.
Lord knows what Conil’s singing about there, but though he hails from London and is much-travelled I’m reckoning he has some Irish roots, judging by song titles like ‘Old Irish Drunks’ - which feels like watching clouds drift by - and ‘Kitty’s Wake’, a spooked folkie kind of affair with a stretched out melody that again sounds oddly familiar, but alien at the same time. Oh yeah, and there’s the reference to “the death of a bricklayer in Dublin” in amongst the scratching, scraping and squeaking of the marvellously titled ‘A Waterfall Is A Poem Pouring Through A Rock’.
Conil has produced some lovely tunes here, sometimes rendering them in an almost ethereal fashion that demonstrates tremendous control, but always with an off-kilter sensibility that makes Strange Part Of The Country an edgy, prickly listening experience. Much to my surprise, I’m quite taken with it.