Rob Sharples, the man behind Four Quartets, is a man who delights in his musical material and indulges technical proficiency; his debut, Paragon of Animals, is a fourteen-track rumble through ever-entwining major and minor chords and impressively warm vocal harmonies that draws inspiration from Sufjan Stevens, Radiohead, The Beatles, Sparklehorse and Harry Nilsson.
For a first effort this is a very strong collection indeed. Tenth track ‘Tilting at Windmills’ begins with an excellent disconcerting babble of dissonant strings, its main, single strummed chords subverted by a quiet, mildly frantic picking in questionable support behind it. It is followed by ‘Magpie’, on which the constant rolling between confident and melancholy piano figures gives off an exuberance which is much like Paul McCartney before he went bad in Wings and sounds particularly like The Beatles’ ‘Martha My Dear’. Together, they represent the strongest single tracks, and the best combination on the album.
If McCartney is present, so too is a kind of “Lennon-lite” sound, and Sharples invokes The White Album again with ‘A Parting of the Ways’, where picked guitars – again circling around the major/minor divide – sound in parts like The Beatles’ ‘Julia’. ‘Joke’s Over’ revels in the same technique, though with less effect; its a little more like an unsuccessful Elliott Smith pastiche.
The White Album is not the only obvious influence. There are a trio or so of tracks that, in the hard, almost grunge-like strumming and bassy tones, sound not unlike Radiohead’s The Bends. Opener ‘Whitewash’, while not the strongest track on Paragon of Animals, introduces this theme nicely, and when it reappears on ‘Lightbulb’ – a track fused with Bends-era Jonny Greenwood-style guitars – its seeming familiarity is pleasing.
Among that praise, though, it would be untruthful not say that the album does wear thin in parts. The final two tracks offer little, and a few tracks in particular – ‘A Long Way Down’, ‘The Spirit Level’, ‘Death of a Salesman’ – are samey, and while not terrible, encourage you to wander off and concentrate on other things.
If that’s a discouragement though, make sure at least to listen to the album’s single, ‘Pirouette’; a Sparklehorse-esque psuedo-ballad. Its harmonies are so nicely constructed that there’s no way anybody couldn’t be impressed.
Words: Chris Woolfrey