Label: Bella Union Release date: 12/05/10 Link: Myspace You may have already seen the delightfully idiosyncratic video for Paul ‘Lone Wolf’ Marshall’s ‘Keep Your Eyes on the Road’ – something like ‘Sledgehammer’ via ‘White Winter Hymnal’ in visual style – which gives a fairly decent account of his debut album. Structurally the songs are intriguingly arranged, many of them shunning a conventional verse/chorus structure in favour of a less linear and more open-ended narrative. This is explored with particular success in ‘We Could Use Your Blood Tonight’ and ‘15 Letters’, both utilising lyrical motifs rather than choruses to create familiar codas within their words. Indeed ‘15 Letters’ is arguably the album highlight, a moody tale of betrayal and madness in which the narrator’s very name drives a former lover to insanity. The schizophrenic double-meaning of ‘letters’ is played upon interestingly as the female character becomes more tormented by the narrator, “Now I’m the voice inside her head, I’m in her bed, I’m in the walls that she hides between”. The track progresses in tapering style from fingerpicked acoustic guitar to piano to choir and strings before resolving itself in an eerily quiet conclusion. This leads into the atmospheric instrumental ‘The Devil and I (Part 1)’, sounding like a music box playing in a dusty haunted Victorian manor at its outset before rearing into a thudding bassy rumble. Drums throughout the album are simplistic, foreboding and echoing; ‘Buried Beneath the Tiles’ skits along on clicking percussion whilst slack military snares pound tension into an already taut track. Whilst The Devil and I's instrumentation is almost faultless, the lyrics are where – if anywhere – the album falters. Not that they aren’t richly literary and delivered with an accomplished and smooth if slightly forgettable voice; at times however they seem to over-reach themselves, as if Marshall hasn’t quite selected the correct words to convey his meaning. There are some metrically awkward and tripped-over moments (“I slaughtered a cow and I’m a vegetarian”) and some cringingly unnecessary internal rhymes (“The press repress regrets and regress”). Bookish and clever such lyrics may be, but they seem almost too clever for their own good at times. The album’s second half is noticeably subdued compared to its first, the skeletal ‘Russian Winter’ and ‘Dead River’ failing to hold the attention nearly as effectively. ‘Soldiers’ is a definite exception however, the descending intonations concluding its chorus are delicious. Minor misgivings aside, there is plenty to recommend The Devil and I; its overall aesthetic is complex and fablish, a rich tapestry yielding intricacies which gradually enfold the listener. Themes are uniformly grave and gloomy, from the noirish WW2 resistance tale of ‘We Could Use Your Blood’ and the dread-filled clairvoyance of ‘Keep Your Eyes on the Road’. The music and subject matter well-convey the darkened palettes of deep red and rich purple and gothic architecture of a theatre, casting the album artwork as similarly well-chosen. Overall, The Devil and I is an impressively moody and mythic debut. Photobucket