Burning Alms: In Sequence (Smalltown America)
Released: 4th August 2014
Passionate and intelligent debut album from Burning Alms, two members of underrated Birmingham band, Calories.
Side projects are a tricky prospect. Suspicion forever hovers that perpetrators of a side project are tossing off material they’ve deemed not good enough for their main concern, and it’s made worse when you’re a fan of the main concern in question. I don’t pretend to be fashionable, so when I hear “side project” I hear “The Eraser” and I hear “The Good The Bad And The Queen” and I start to whimper a little.
Calories are the relevant band in this case, an interesting and often noisy guitar band who I’ve enjoyed a great deal over the course of three albums. Two of their members have developed what the press release calls their ‘long-running musical partnership’ into a project named Burning Alms, and In Sequence is their debut album. The hideous apparition of a Jarvis Cocker contrivance performed entirely in French terrorises me for the full 29 seconds of the intro track, before the bang and crash of The Aperture Colonised provide a ray of hope that Burning Alms might actually be a band rather than an exercise in calculated frustration.
Emotions alter over the course of the album’s 45 minutes, from joy to relief to confusion to an unexpected sense of pride. For here’s an album that rests on no laurels but understands that the listener does actually matter a bit if music is to be enjoyed. However many tracks here mess with time signatures and drop in and out when you’re not expecting them to, at their heart they’re still songs, rather than constructions pieced together in a bid to stop musicians getting bored in the studio. There’s a passion for the art demonstrated alongside a desire for the album to be liked, and it works very well indeed.
So Unreal and Mid Storm/ Still Ending are two of the more revealing tracks. Each is fiercely delivered via hefty guitar work and reverb, but it’s never over the top and consistently backed by John Biggs’ precarious vocals. These twinned tracks are boldly followed by a near eight-minute, quiet-loud instrumental, which fits well as a contemplative counterpoint to the preceding clamour.
And then it’s a lovely acoustic track, and then it’s back to savage electrics for the most straight-forward track here, Forest Clearing. This mixture of song types – instrumental to acoustic to full on rock – points to the invention Biggs and comrade Tom Whitfield have brought to Burning Alms. It continues throughout; there’s no indication of what’s coming next and you’re allowed no time to settle. After three quarters of a very pleasing, consistently tuneful hour you’re left with the feeling you’ve enjoyed working for it rather than consented to be put through it – a surprisingly strenuous kickabout in the park as opposed to a necessary but tedious fat burn at the gym.
Given the variation, picking the best track here would be like choosing a favourite genre, and as such a little pointless. The most emotive could be The Periphery, an acoustic delight whose lyrics are as thoughtful as anywhere on the record.
It’s an album equal to anything Calories have done. Indeed, based on this evidence it may be an injustice to call Burning Alms a side project, but all the same In Sequence certainly restores my faith that offshoots can have something original to add – that there may be a few more Duckworth Lewis Methods out there than Dirty Pretty Things.