The Great Albatross – Asleep in the Kaatskills [LP]

I make it my policy in writing reviews to be as honest as I can without deliberately offending anyone.

With that philosophy in mind, I feel it necessary to share that I was not expecting to enjoy Asleep in the Kaatskills by The Great Albatross as much as I do.

 

I knew that I liked the artist and that the band are good live, but I did not expect to be so transfixed by the release and to find it so endearing on so many levels.

It is very much worth exploring for yourself, it is of a very high quality in a number of respects.

Most importantly it is a collection of tremendously coherent and enjoyable songs that come together to create a tremendously coherent and enjoyable album, worth more than the sum of its parts.

I caught up with the head of The Great Albatross, Wesley Chung, who explained that the album was recorded over four years in various bedrooms in Scotland and California – something that he thinks contributed to the warmth of the albums sound; the comfortable familiarity of the surroundings.

Perhaps that aspect of the recording also contributed to the exploration of various tempos, styles, tropes and approaches in the development of the album.

Asleep in the Kaatskills fails at no point to impress, falls at no point into a pigeonhole and feels at all times to be extremely professional.

The music is able to move closer or further away from these its variously employed aspects wonderfully, allowing each song to be distinct from the rest but also form part of an overarching thematic narrative.

The songs are not too similar nor too different, conferring an endearing integrity and a graceful reminder of the musicality behind this work.

Despite embracing a number of popular sounds and dimensions, the album has a lot of originality, it is experimental without sacrificing its cohesiveness or purpose.

The various times and places that the album has been recorded across also likely lends it its variety and originality.

I’ve seen The Great Albatross live twice, in two different forms (once with three musicians and once with five – employing no less than three electric guitars at times) I have previously commented on the profundity of the nuance and subtlety that the act is capable of.

Come to think of it, their live performance to release Asleep in the Kaatskills made for a fantastic evening; all of the acts were good and the venue is lovely, but The Great Albatross really brought it home with a subtle and lasting quality.

This subtle, lasting quality has – I feel – been successfully instilled into the album; there are a lot of albums of similar decibel range that I can listen to a few times and then forget about – I don’t expect this to be the case here.

The album is neither too light nor too dark, not too happy or sad, neither too serious nor too jovial, too simple or too complex.

The catchy parts aren’t too sickly and the record has popular appeal without sacrificing an ounce of integrity; it is highly emotional but not sappy.

Combined, the balance of these aspects makes for what I would consider an exceptional debut, incorporating a wide variety of instruments in sensational harmony.

Chung tells me that – with the album being released here on LP Records based in Glasgow – there has been tremendous support for it, whilst it seems to be going down quite well across the pond as well.

The Great Albatross has all the qualities of folk-rock American song writing that I love without any crassness, hyper-emotionality or sentimentality that many of their contemporary artists can be guilty of.

Boris Smile – Wesley’s old band – provided Count Your Lucky Stars Records with their fourth release.

He said that with Count Your Lucky Stars, the album and the label steadily grew in popularity with the upswing of “emo” (quotation marks his, not mine).

He said it was like riding a wave, not dissimilarly to the wave riding he perceives himself to be doing with The Great Albatross, on LP Records in Glasgow with Codist and American Clay.

Having listened to and enjoyed some Boris Smile, I might comment that the level of musical and lyrical maturity displayed seems higher with The Great Albatross.

Chung told me – in answer to a rubbish interview question – that the album might be best enjoyed as part of a road trip in any season other than winter – “it isn’t a winter album”, says Chung.

The album wanders out to leave you to it with ‘When I Wake’.

It is only at the end of the album that one might expect to be rewarded with an overarching satisfaction with the release, perhaps like a good road trip it is only when it is finished that you appreciate it for what it was.

In this case, the road trip is a good album.

Words: Paul Aitken

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