John Grant – Grey Tickles, Black Pressure Review

‘A middle-aged nightmare’ hardly the most emphatic way to sell a record. But that’s the gist behind the third album from American singer-songwriter John Grant and former member of alternative rock band The Czars. The title apparently combines the Icelandic for midlife crisis and Turkish for nightmare, the front cover a haunting image of the singer, eyes gouged out, and with two owls doing the seeing for him. Anyone who has followed Grant’s music over recent years will have a handle on the former Czars front man – acute candour, eruditely expressed, dressed up strings or dressed down squelchy synths and this album has both in bounds. The opener, aptly called ‘Intro’, offers just over one and a half minutes of accapella, spoken in a variety of different languages, before moving on to the subtly dressed, atmospheric strings of ‘Grey Tickles, Black Pressure’. Tracks such as the third on the album ‘Snug Slacks’ offer a very different approach; distorted guitars and squelchy synths move there way in and out of the listener’s conscious all sprinkled with Grant’s unmistakable vocals.

The lyrical content of the album is at times just as haunting as the cover, tracks such as ‘Black Blizzard’, ‘Magma Arrives and ‘Global Warming’ imaging grim, apocalyptic ends all seen threw the eyes of Grant and accompanied by a vast array of differing sounds and styles. In stark comparison the synth-based songs previously, tracks such as ‘Down Here’ offer a more laidback, intimate and relaxing soundscape, taking a more traditional approach of drums layered with 80’s woozy keyboards. Over the course of two well acclaimed albums Grant has set about writing two decades worth of personal dramas, fuelled by drink and drugs, he’s pondered disastrous relationships and his own diagnosis of HIV. Now settled in stability and sobriety in the glacial landscape of Iceland, can a more relaxed and relatively content Grant be as compelling and interesting without the torment? After all stability, sobriety and relaxation are notoriously hard to write about. He has, with a playful candor, managed to hold onto what has in the past made him such a great artist, tracks such as ‘Guess How I Know’ alloyed by space noises and references to zombies. So the underlying anger and unsettled Grant is still there, just perhaps with a slightly brighter outlook and heightened sense of mischief, something that is extremely apparent within his latest offering.

Grant’s new album Grey Tickles, Black Pressure is out now on Bella Union.

John Grant – Grey Tickles, Black Pressure = 8/10

Matthew Kay

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