Guile ‘Alone on the West’ – album review

Guile: Alone on the West (Salvation Recording Company 2012)
DL
Available 14 May 2012

A heady mix of rock n’ roll, punk and psychedelia; warm sounding; harshly romantic. Here macthehack takes us through Guile’s astonishing debut album and tells us why he thinks it’s got ‘classic’ written all over it. 

Flick the switch and feel the warmth.  Right from the 5 second feedback intro to opening track ”˜Reprobate Lover’ there is a warmth to ”˜Alone on The West’. There’s no clinical, cut ”˜n’ paste digital precision here. Guile are not an autotune kind of band.  This is unashamedly old school rock ”˜n’ roll, from a band who clearly believes that studio shortcuts are the musicians’ equivalent of the Red Indian’s attitude to having your photo taken:  every time you do it, you lose a little bit of your soul.

Guile are a performance band.  If it’s not there in the playing, then no amount of post-production is going to capture the magic.  In fact Guile binned an entire album of digitally recorded songs and tracked down two of few remaining analogue studios in the country to re-record much of this album.  All at their own expense.

And the warmth?  That’ll be the valve amplifiers.  The kind that used to give off that hum of anticipation, if you’re old enough to remember back to the days before intro tapes and DJ’s between bands at gigs.

So ”˜Alone On The West’ ticks box one; a proper band and an album with a lush, deep production.

Which is just as well ”“ Guile’s dark psychedelic roar is a layered sound that demands the depth and complexity of ”˜Alone On The West’ as song after song reveals subtle slide playing and hidden guitar codas woven into huge sonic frameworks.The epic ”˜Love Around Here’ is a great example of this, building from an introverted, lazy, strumming intro, before moving along with an almost sitar-esque vibe into second gear, before exploding into full form, an aneurysm of a song, with clear as a bell lead guitar and growling bass.  Rising above it all is the increasingly desperate vocal of Neal Sawyer as he declares ”˜There’s just no love around here’.  Immense.

But let’s rewind a step.  Guile have taken a bold step with ”˜Alone On The West’, rather than just go into the studio and put down their live set, as is so often the case with debut albums, they have actually thought about this record.  And it shows.

Having seen Guile live on a few occasions I also know they have enough material for two albums anyway, so perhaps the ”˜bash it out’ option wasn’t really gonna happen anyway.  But the songs on this album consistently reveal nuances that stand repeated listening.

”˜Devil In Black’, a long standing live favourite, is a case in point.  Studded with exceptional playing from lead guitarist Jon Sawyer over a satisfyingly gritty rhythm platform from brother Neal and swooping guttural bass lines from Adam Shaw, are all allowed to play their part as the production manages to square the circle of allowing all the elements of the song the space to contribute, while still maintaining the drive and urgency that makes Guile compelling.

As dark and foreboding as the moods Guile conjure up on ”˜Alone On The West’ are, it’s an album of light and shade.  ”˜Somewhere, Sometimes, Someone’ has a lush pastoral feel to it, that speaks of love and regret, watching an English countryside sunrise.  While ”˜Burning Pride’, awash with strings, swells to a valedictory climax that really ought to soundtrack an end of season montage of the bitterest relegation campaign.  Or perhaps that’s just showing my own lack of emotional depth!

By contrast, recent single ”˜Deep By The Dockery’, propelled along by Gaz Slater’s infections percussive beat and a naggingly brilliant riff, is 2 minutes 19 seconds of euphoric dirty country.

It’s been said before that Guile are a band who proudly show their influences, from Robert Johnson, through Johnny Cash to The Doors and on to Spiritualized amongst many others, Guile have spent a lifetime devouring music to produce this their own contribution to that lineage.

In keeping with that sense of tradition, ”˜Alone On The West’ has been put together like a proper album, complete with the killer closing tracks that between then showcase the breadth of Guile’s range.

Title track ”˜Alone On The West’ is Guile at their raging, white noise peak.  A howling, thrashing squall of feedback and desperation, with all the levels in the red.  Normally the band’s set closer ”“ you can see why; it’s a song that is an end.  A full stop.  It puts the listener through the wringer and you come out the other side spent and empty.

And just when you think Guile have left you washed up on a desolate beech, deep in the middle of nowhere, they lay down their final ace.  The haunting, acoustic comedown ”˜140 Hurts’ is quite simply astonishing.  An achingly beautiful, world weary end to Guile’s road trip through your mind.

Each song on ”˜Alone On The West’ stands on its own two feet.  But taken as a whole ”“ as this album should be ”“ the songs complement each other in creating that rare thing, an almost flawless debut album.  Label them what you like, blues, psychedelic, punk rock ”˜n’ roll ”“ you’ll know when you hear Guile.

Everyone has those few classic albums that stand the test of time and repeated plays, for me Guile’s ”˜Alone On The West’ has just become one of those classic albums.

”˜Alone On The West’ is available now from iTunes or any good digital download store.

Tracklisting:

  1. Reprobate Lover
  2. Lies Against Hell
  3. Somewhere, Sometimes, Someone
  4. Burning Pride
  5. I Walk Alone
  6. Love Around Here
  7. Deep By The Dockery
  8. Devil In Black
  9. Alone On The West
  10. 140 Hurts

Guile live: The Flapper, Kingston Row, Birmingham on 2nd  June. Tickets £5.00 and are available here.

All words by macthehack. Image by Steve Gerrard. You can read more from macthehack here and on his blog.

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