Paul Haig: The Wood
Released 7 September 2018
New album from ex-Josef K vocalist and songsmith Paul Haig, his fourth in total for Les Disques du Crepuscule….LTW’s Ian Canty finds an aural nature ramble with a difference…..
It’s a long time since Paul Haig split from Josef K. In the fact he has been producing solo records since 1982, so perhaps it is high time to put the Post Punk spectre to one side and look at what is happening in the here and now as Paul’s new record shares next to nothing with that band. Maybe a similar spirit of adventure, but sonically a world away. The Wood finds Haig exploring samples, beats, electronics and “found sound” to sculpt something that is split into 8 parts, but very much fit together as a whole. A soundscape of the strange and strangely danceable among the tranquillity in the forest, or of the mixed up feelings of the soul, or both, well that’s what I think may be intended anyway.
Whether that truly comes over is down to each individual listener to judge, but for me Haig has put together a work that is in turns provocative, danceable, obscure, immediate and beguilingly rum, so I’m not sure it really matters. What The Wood actually consists of is eight pieces that mostly are dance/trance-orientated with repeated vocal motifs. As we are talking only eight pieces in total, let us look at them individually, before assessing their impact in total.
Chasing The Tail – The album opener has a lovely wistful piano intro offset with racing electronic percussion. Soon soulful double tracked female vocals coo “I can’t let go” as a repeated refrain, then this gives way to a stomping dance beat. The wistful piano returns and the bass dances. In fact each piece on the album has a cyclic feel, as is wryly hinted at by this tune’s title – the circle of life in the forest or the repetition in the mind? This is one of a couple of items here that are slightly reminiscent of New Order’s better material, not copies by any means, strident electro that is humanised through the use of bongos in the slow fade.
I Heard Music – This one is heralded by sweeping notes and electro beat. An echo-laden voice sounds, then (I think) Paul Haig for the first time heard singing “Feel the air in my head, I am moving” again a strong dance beat. This ties in with the album concept of mysteries of the mind and how music is processed by the brain.
Sun Flicker – A gentle guitar note, then a dance rhythm – this shares a little ground with Durutti Column. A glistening, slowly emerging but slightly sad melody is enhanced by a delightful female voice and sax riff. This one is lovely and downbeat.
Lights – A fade in then a male spoken word voice musing on seeing light and ” the natural and unknown”. We do not get any further indication of whether this is a UFO encounter etc, it is just left out there for us to draw our own conclusions. Accompanying the stop start dance beats are a grunting treated voice, adding to the otherworldly atmosphere.
Acoustic Mangles – Probably the most straightforward dance items here with very Ibiza keyboard line and skipping beat. Relaxing Trance with meditative feel and slightly queasy rhythm and guitar shadows (in both the background and Hank Marvin sense)
The Walk – Nothing to do with the Cure song obviously. Bucolic feel to start with, like suddenly stepping into a hidden glade on a sunny cold morning with a low mist and no-one else around. An unintelligible echo voice and bongos give way to assertive electronics. Stately in pace and strange in taste.
The Wood – The title track has a female voice spoken word which alludes to being halfway in the journey of life and awakening in a forest. This piece has a pronounce Jazz influence on the piano line and among the static beats the voice intones “I had lost the way”. An Electro-Acid jazz metaphor for life?
Floating Appy – The final piece in the jigsaw has some strangled-sounding treated vocals and almost Hip Hop drum effects. Haig’s guitar is prominent here and from time to time the instruments drop out to go back to the treated vocal – then music flickers into life again. This is a curious end that again leads us around back to the beginning.
Though there is a pronounced tendency on The Wood towards Electro Dance, the concept gives it an added edge and with a little imagination you can feel the eerie peace of the Forest and the skips and dips of the mind. Aside from the concept there is plenty to get one to, cough, “cut a rug”. But everything here fits and one has to admire Haig’s craftsmanship in the way it has been put together – producing a musical storybook without words in effect. 40 years into his recording career he’s still breaking new ground. Long may he strive for the outer reaches, because those who want to be challenged a little in their listening will lap this one up.
Paul Haig is on Facebook here
All words by Ian Canty – see his author profile here