Kent-born bard Alexander Tucker released his debut album on an uncaring world in 2003, a wondrous self-titled release that offered an unparalleled insight into the embryonic genius of the man many people have now come to champion as one of England’s finest songwriters and provides the first recorded glimpse of the man who, on his own and as part of Grumbling Fur, would go on to remarkable critical success.
Following in the glorious British tradition of Syd Barrett, Nick Drake and Richard Thompson, Tucker is most at home when allowed to push against the constraints of the organic forms he uses to convey his dazzling songs. He mostly opts for an acoustic guitar, sometimes with an accompanying guitar, sometimes with an accompanying voice, always with a deft touch. He’s often classified as a ‘folk’ artist, but that really does him a disservice – ‘folk’ doesn’t really mean a thing to today’s audience. He dexterously combines bone-dry harmonic textures with lush pastoral psychedelia, and blends raw acoustic tones with caustic feedback and warped melodic constructions.
The structural qualities (and lack of vocals) of this record are most likely to remind the listener of the avant-garde – from the haunting krautrock of “Luddite Blues” to “Yugo Russian Guitar”s similarities to The Beatles’ “Revolution #9”, signifiers of the more surreal elements of recorded sound are gloriously represented within these thirteen tracks.
“Multistoryhaiku” opens the record – it’s a glorious instrumental cut that encompasses glistening plucked acoustic guitar lines, oscillating feedback buzzes and an increasingly unhinged coda. What follows, “Shirts Give Pleasure to Those Who Wear Them,” is completely avant-garde. It’s almost as though Faust were let loose on the first track – you’ll find wind-chimes, jarring loops and bizarre froggy ‘ribbit’s buried within the disorienting sonic soup.
“The Black Bear” harks back to a bygone Albion – the guitar has a lyric quality, the dual-tracked vocals are effectively a monkish chant. It showcases Tucker’s ornate baritone to the fullest extent possible. “A Warm Fan” is a tough one to explicate. What seems like the sound of a photocopier scanning paper then spitting out facsimiles is actually a tape-loop, which becomes supplemented (in due course) by ominous buzzing drones happily clicking away.
The sprightly “Shandor” evokes Led Zeppelin’s “Gallows Pole,” such is the swing and kinetic dynamism implanted within the rustic atmosphere Tucker conjures. It also happens to be a thrill to listen to – you may be expecting it to be followed up by “Tangerine”, but you won’t be disappointed.
In the brilliantly-titled, “Luddite Blues,” spectral reverb swallows rattling, angular guitar scrapes and regurgitates them – they then take flight, bouncing and crashing against the walls (or the inside of the listener’s cranium) in rather a detached fashion. It seems confrontational but somehow distant, as though Tucker is inviting the listener to become alienated while hoping they become enthralled. I find the latter to be the appropriate reaction.
“The Hungarians Give Up Everything For Their Guests” and “Yugo Russian Guitar” plant him firmly back in Faust territory: The wheezing harmonica dissonance, insistent percussive elements and indecipherable spoken phrases of the former and ominous growl and futuristic throb of the latter remind the listener of those cosmic jokers.
“Paste!! Century!!” and “Kolbaz” are two of the most experimental tracks Tucker’s ever committed to tape. Both are exploratory stabs at auditory mind expansion, and both are successful. Tucker mentioned in the press kit that he was influenced by a raft of psychedelia (not least Bardo Pond, who he remains influenced by to this day) and these final two tracks showcase not only the guidance he takes from red-eyed sonic expeditions but his precision when crafting collages that produce the same desired effect (delirium) as his influences.
A trio of whooshing white-noise drones make up the added purchase incentive (bonus tracks) and they are fantastic, particularly the darker of the three “Gathering 3 (Yew Bonus)”.
His kinship with the aforementioned greats – and, most notably, the former Lord Yatesbury (Google it) – is striking. This debut album, released for the first time to the mass market, is a tremendous indication of what was to come, and what is to come, from (arguably, of course) Britain’s finest songwriter. This, as is everything Tucker has released, is highly recommended.