close your eyes
October 7, 2002 9:30:00 PM CEST

[music, albums]

Montgolfier Brothers - The World Is Flat

Montgolfier Brothers - The World Is Flat
They did it again.

Mark Tranmer and Richard Roger Quigley from Salford near Manchester have created another chef d'œuvre of wistful reserved chamber pop.
Their first album Seventeen Stars drew me in immediately after ten seconds of listening to the song pro-celebrity standing around and I wrote a glowing review for which I later translated here in my old blog sax & sunshine.

The World Is Flat is full of outstanding tunes and lyrics (please feel free to suggest corrections, I didn't get all of them). It has a perfect flow. Up to now my album of the year. By far by the way.

In the past months I was a little fed up with current music and wanted to stop buying CDs. This album has kindled the fire again and now I am back into music.

The World Is Flat is a soundtrack to a film on a love gone wrong. Extremely romantic and irresistible for me. In one word: precious.
Everything is simple about this music:

  • the magic minimalistic tunes
  • the sensitive striking words
  • the soothing and captivating voice of Quigley

An intimate tender record I prefer to listen to with people who are very close or entirely on my own. Listening to it with strangers seems to be like an intrusion into emotional private territory. Almost frivolous in a sense.

It is one of those CDs I am afraid of ruining by playing it too often. I don’t mean the physical CD trace of course. Like all really good things in life be it sex, drugs, food or whatever this music has to be consumed in moderation to appreciate it for a long time.

The voice of Quigley and his lyrics are a very important part of this music. Gnac, ie Tranmer doing ambientish instrumentals on his own is not as thrilling.

The melancholic mood is close to Belle and Sebastian and Nick Drake but more mature and calm. If Nick Drake had lived a little longer and had had a broken up love story to sing about it would probably have sounded very much like this record.

In places the Montgolfier Brothers make me think of the baroque pop of Divine Comedy though their music is not as lush and orchestral. They don’t suffer from production overkill.

Purely instrumental music in a similar vein was made by Durutti Column though Vini Reilly doesn't have the tunefulness.

Beck who covered similar ground this year in Sea Change in comparison sounds tired and lifeless. A syrupy and sticky album, over-produced. Music just passing by, not holding the attention of the listener. A failed attempt to redo Harvest.

Coldplay, another inhabitant of this part of the musical landscape are even paler in comparison. I will never and actually don’t want to understand how a band with an insupportable falsetto singer with empty embarrassing lyrics and average tunes can have such a success as Coldplay. Whereas a nice intense voice coupled with simple but profound lyrics about relationship and breathtaking melancholic melodies stays an insider tip. That again reminds me of Nick Drake so much. I nevertheless hope and think that unlike Drake Tranmer and Quigley can live with their non-success.

A song by song account:

1 2.55 newbury
It all starts with street noises again which segue into Quigley humming a light and sunny melody and the guitars and ambient synthesizer/keyboards slowly joining in. At the end a young woman with a strong Northern accent says

I'll be the apple of your parents eye.

2 the understudy
This is already slower and sets the theme of the album, the ending of a relation which was doomed from the beginning.

Chances are if I could change, I’d do it all the same but differently
I would have asked you early on, just what the chances were,
Not sat around and wasted half a life time
Understudy to the main man in your life

3 be selfish
One of the highlights. It has this Cocteau Twins otherworldly night music feel. I find it astonishing that the melodic line is so simple and repeated about a million times without ever getting boring or annoying. In the beginning the guitars have this liquid cembalo sound. Together with the dominating piano they breathe a lightness into the music which is confronted by a certain gravity coming from the bass and synthesizer.
The Montgolfier Brothers take all the time of the world to create a relaxed beautiful sentimental tune with a forward looking optimistic take on the situation.

Move on and leave the past behind
Start thinking of your future
Be selfish to be kind
There is even a winking kind of humour recited by an incredibly tender and smooth voice.
I‘ll miss the midnight rows and the morning smiles
and the world feeling safe holding you
the conversations fueled by gin
and the angry mood it gets you in
which can also turn into sensitive despairing irony:
We’ll cry ourselves to sleep at night in separate beds

4 the world is flat
The title track and centerpiece. It starts as a calmer more settled guitar song. Rather down to earth and rational. Quigley sings of how the relation was meant to be.

We will raise a family
I’ll be the apple of your parents eyes and
They’ll raise a glass to us and
I won’t drink the bottle dry
We’ll wake each morning and
We’ll count our lucky stars
There’s no relationship as strong as ours and
We’ll share in half our problems
We’ll talk our worries through
There’ll be no little secrets
That I hold back from you
After the piano interlude the song twists. She starts to turn away
You’ve got suspicions and
You say you’ve got proof
That my commitments float
That I can’t speak the truth
That I am lost and I am scared and
The lawyer’s waiting so I meet you there
and it all turns out to have been a dream.
We’ll never share our problems
Or talk our worries through and
All those little secrets will make their way to you
You’ll find fulfillment
I’ll play and lose the way and
We won’t raise that family

5 the second takes forever
A meandering instrumental. The piano plays a sort of scale up and down. The atmospheric acoustic guitars are wrapped around.

6 swings and roundabouts
This is something like a crossover of a lullaby and a ballad. It starts with this simple musical box theme and then the bass kicks in and this daydream chorus comes on:

I was like you
I was strong
Full of life and happy as the day was long
Cause no one would deceive me
And nothing could go wrong
Head safely buried in the clouds
Life and I just got around

and it finishes with these rather mysterious lyrics with new age keyboard background

Stop giving up
Stop giving in
And give away your secrets
But keep the blueprint safe
Sell your soul
Don’t learn by your mistake

7 dream in organza
Another intermezzo instrumental. An instrument sounding like an electric xylophone and later the piano are like colour blobs in a repetitive soundscape. Very nice background music.

8 i couldn't sleep, either
A bukolic nostalgic song about the end of the relation. All which is left are memories and the question what went wrong.

I pull through the photographs
And look beyond the smile
Inch my way through your diary
And hope to find some lies
Some friend
Some way to explain
The not understood break-up shows up in the music through the briefly stroken guitar chords during the chorus which don't resonate.
9 think once more
One of the most impressive instrumentals I have ever heard. Calm and with a simpleness of the melody reminding me of Satie though it has a very melancholic undertone. It must be one of the musical pieces with the most chord changes. In the first two minutes I counted about fifty. They sound like a briefly screeching door and add a human almost painful touch to the track. The repeated chord changes are like a never ending hiccup.
10 inches away
A worthy closer in slow motion. The album condensed into one song. It sounds like watching a rose opening its petals in the morning. Beauty unfolding very slowly. Music and lyrics can only be referred to as perfect. The metronome which can be heard throughout the song gives the song this transient character. After the end of the lyrics the song turns into an instrumental with the tune blossoming in full bloom.
I have to quote the complete lyrics as they can't be split. A love song to the beloved who leaves you.
Inches away and not knowing
The space we share
Keeps us both apart
We will waste our whole life
Just missing each other
We’ll stand an eternity
Just passing each other by
Inches away from never been lonely
A chance to share
Another human being‘s time
Needing to belong
To something or someone
Some point of reference
And some peace of mind
Inches away from waking beside you
Seeing god’s flashlight
Turn your sleep and smile into the frown
As you come round
The world outside spins slowly
Slowly and all the time is hour
Time to redress you
Undress you all that time is hour
Inches away from learning to master
The tricks required
The magic compromise
I‘m failing to hold on
To that precious someone
Aching your way through at last once
A final unintended smile
Inches away from watching you leave me
I never quite understand all the reasons why

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