Thursday 9 November 2017

John Bramwell - Leave Alone The Empty Spaces

Leave Alone The Empty Spaces is the debut solo album from I Am Kloot's John Bramwell. Stripping back all the production gloss of the last two I Am Kloot studio albums, it's a real back to basics record, inspired by both John's incessant solo touring of the last four years and the home-based recording studio where most of this was written and recorded. What remains is an intimate, heartfelt album that lays bare why many of his peers cite him as an inspiration and one of the leading songwriters of his generation.

The album doesn't hang around, its sleeve displays 27:27 proudly as the length of time it takes for the listener to experience the ten songs that make it up. Six of the ten songs are just John, the other four enlist the likes of Dave Fidler and Alan Lowles who have accompanied him on the never-ending tour which gives Leave Alone The Empty Space a warm glow to it that feels like you're being ushered into private thoughts and welcomed into that home space where these songs were born.

A Field Full Of Secrets opens the record, and is a sparse instrumental with a dark, cloying atmospheric, almost funereal feel that is both intriguing and a curveball start for a solo record by an artist who's best known for his lyricism, but it, like the rest of Leave Alone The Empty Spaces, feels like it's making a statement.

It's followed by the album's lead single Who Is Anybody?, which consists of a series of open questions, looking for answers to the meaning of life, a theme that runs throughout casting aside day to day humdrum and looking for something more concluding "there's been some minor deviation within my random number generation, like you my thoughts and codes have bled right out on to the pavement and gone away to some other place" and that feels like an analogy for what John's trying to achieve with this album. It's stripped back of anything that might be remotely unnecessary, the sparsity of some of the arrangements and the directness of the lyrics however have the impact of making this the most intense record of his career so far.

Time's Arrow starts with a fragile acoustic guitar, so crisply recorded that it creates the taut atmosphere of the song all on its own and creates the space for every little nuance in John's voice to be heard. Again it's questioning the meaning of existence and the impact of the passing of time - "I have gathered in the slipstream the moments that I can't forever keep." In another world you could hear this song with a lush production targeted at daytime radio, but that would simply be window dressing around the inner core beauty.

From The Shore has an almost waltz-like quality to it, augmented by bass, pedal steel and drums and the sound of the coast in the background, which gives the song a warmth that contradicts some of the lyrics - "you've pledged your indifference and now you're stuck here by yourself." Again, you can imagine huge string arrangements wrapped around the song's simple melody, but this restraint feels more natural and genuine.

Even when the strings (cello and violin in this case) come into play on Sat Beneath The Lightning Tree, they're here to add colour and shade to the delicate and sparse arrangements of the song. There's a heart-wrenching feeling when those strings dance in the background as John wistfully suggests "so let's take a little walk, we have still the time before the money that you saved takes possession of your mind." Lyrically, the album has moved on from that oft-quoted infamous "drinking and disaster" tagline, we're in more thoughtful inward looking contemplation here rather than booze-fuelled shenanigans.

That wistfulness continues in The Whipperwill, as the acoustic guitar creates a real intensity that has the hairs on your neck standing up as John sings of a walk away from the rest of the world's attentions reflecting on thoughts in silence other than the tune of the bird singing in the background "will you walk back with me again? I can hear you talking with me again, put your hand upon my heart."

Wherever I Go, Wherever You Are is a dark claustrophobic, mostly instrumental piece with just the song's title sang twice suffixed with "I love you." It feels like the sound of a heart breaking in two, reaching out to someone lost somewhere else in the world.

The album's title track brings back the drums, bass and pedal steel and a cautious optimism with them at looking forward searching for far off places - "I've packed up all of my tomorrows and everything that I borrowed and left it all behind." Meet Me At The Station follows on with that theme, urging the song's subject to run away with him, escaping the "final demand from the revenue" to somewhere that they're not known other than their name.

Leave Alone The Empty Spaces feel like it's taking a step out of the world that John's inhabited for the past seven years since Sky At Night thrust I Am Kloot into the mainstream and raised people's expectations of what he should do, how he should act and what his music should sound like.

It discards the pressures of a record label, the responsibility of leading a band and takes everything from the recording to the release of the record right back to basics, encouraged by the joys of touring wherever and whenever takes the fancy with just an acoustic guitar in hand, trusty dog Henry for company in his camper van. In doing so, John's created an uncluttered natural sounding album that feels like he's laying his mind and soul bare in front of you, sharing his thoughts, his fears and his hopes.

It's not a record to take lightly, it requires and demands your whole undivided attention, but as you delve further into it, you feel like you're sat in the passenger seat of his camper van, experiencing and sharing his innermost thoughts. It proves the old adage that less is definitely much much more. Turn the lights down, pour yourself a dark peaty single malt and immerse yourself.

John Bramwell's website can be found here.  He is also on Twitter and Facebook.

The album, alongside a companion Live in 2016 CD recorded at his shows in Manchester and London last November can be purchased from his official store.

Unofficial updates are also available at @iamklootclub on Twitter. 

John Bramwell plays the following shows : Halifax The Lantern (November 11), Pocklington Arts Centre (15), Cardiff Glee Club (19), Nottingham Glee Club (21), Birmingham Glee Club (22), Sheffield City Hall (26), London Union Chapel (28), Utrecht Tivoli Vredenburg (December 1), Leiden Gebr. De Nobel (2), Nijmegen Doornroosje (4), Gateshead The Sage (7), Southport Atkinson Theatre (9) and Manchester Royal Northern College Of Music (15)

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