Stranger Son: Last Days of Butterfly – album review
Stranger Son’s latest album combines epic post Factory sounds with poetic set pieces all dusted in organic industrial themes and wrapped in a post punk post rock vision. A rare record and a soundtrack fit for the north west capital.
The origins of Stranger Son can be traced as far back as 2005 when singer and leader Gareth Smith brought together former members of Manchester underground leading lights The Sonar Yen, Thee Virus House and Sundowner. That line up has long gone but Smith’s original musical design, which weaved in the influences of Beefheart, The Fall, Sonic Youth, CAN and The Velvet Underground as well as the city’s own foreboding, dark and brooding indie heritage, is still writ large.
These days Stranger Son run as a five piece, morphing with each line up and album, but with the regular presence of Smith and Julie Campbell (LoneLady), leading protagonists in Manchester’s resurgent alt rock scene of the early noughties. Whatever the guise, the band remains ambitious and ready to tear at the edges of experimentalism.
Their last album, Luna Marseille, was a masterpiece. On this LP they drill deeper into the darker sounds of the late 70s and Manchester’s traditional powerhouse of twisted noise and entangled genres, crafted in abandoned mills and drawn on the air of post-punk re-invention. As an album, the concepts tower like topsy, the core of each song built from epic mantras and cycling, organic hooks. Smith’s vocals are presented as poetic narratives that remind me of similarly influenced local predecessors, The Orch (who ran a similar line in the early 90s and remain occasionally active today).
The opening three songs – the title track, French Playground and I Got Lucky (Portishead spliced with a Mark E Smith moment of genius) – rely on the gritty, strangely emotional but starkly spoken word under which a raw bass sounds, the layered retro synths and scything guitar cutting and slashing in slow motion. Factory references abound, but it’s all kept satisfyingly lo-fi but with a production that is clean, fresh and vibrant ; the recording sessions took place in Victoria Baths, no doubt helping to create the mood.
As you slip into the final two tracks of five – Plane To Belgium and The Button Calls – the former explodes into a grinding bass and fervent guitar hooks with swirling chords bolstered by upbeat drums and Smith’s monotone voice. The final track proceeds with pleasant instrumental clatters and a welcome discord that climaxes the album with a tight but delightfully undisciplined collapse.
Stranger Son are an enigmatic band with history and character and Last Days of Butterfly ably demonstrates their capable fusion of past and present. They’ve perfected a formula for putting chaos into order, without losing the turmoil. Whether it’s their magical sonic wormhole into 1979 or their reflective but powerful attacks of sound and orchestrated noise, they continue to craft music that defines itself, but which perceptively borrows from many of the great noises that have emanated from this city over the last 40 years. In doing this, Stranger Son have cemented their place in Manchester’s lineage of relevant homespun soundtracks.
All words by Jon Ashley. Find more of his Louder Than War writing here.