Money – Shadow of Heaven (Bella Union, 5/6/2014)
“If you hold me forever,
I’ll become bored of all of this together,
You can praise and thank the Lord for keeping us apart,
But the Lord ain’t God; he’s something clever,
But that ain’t smart…
Heaven is real” (“Hold Me Forever”)
Money are a four piece hailing from Manchester, England. The band’s label – the consistently outstanding Bella Union – has made fans on this side of the pond wait several months for a domestic release of debut album Shadow of Heaven (it’s been out in the UK since last Fall). It was worth it.
God. Sin. Religion. Faith (and the loss thereof). Despair. Hope. As the title suggests, religious themes abound – the Christ-like pose in the cover photo; the celestial chords of “Hold Me Forever”; the lyric imagery and plaintive, choirboy warble of singer Jamie Lee. Their label bio states that the band played some of the earliest shows at Manchester’s Sacred Trinity Church – small wonder.
God may be ‘dead’, as the opening track suggests, but remains present throughout – and like his counterpoint, is found often in the details. If we are indeed alone and in charge of each other, where do we search for solace? – sanctuary found in a smile from across a crowded bar; hope gleaned from the sight of a rabbit bounding across cracked and buckled pavement; faith restored as creepers and ivy reclaim abandoned property. A god of lesser things. Truth found in the dim, grey light of morning.
There are moments where the arrangements call to mind the early devotional music of composers like Thomas Tallis. There’s a stark, ethereal quality here; open spaces promoting contemplation – the descending Cloud of Unknowing. There are also aspects of the earnestness which marked the early output of bands like U2 and Coldplay. While those bands lost that emotion along the way to world conquering stardom, the emotion on display here is very raw, at times almost disconcerting. Even in the album’s larger moments – including the Clientele on steroids sweep of highlight “Bluebell Fields” – retain an intimacy; grandeur on a small scale. There is isolation in loneliness, but also peace and quiet and, from this, perhaps solace and rejuvenation. This is an album to sit with and absorb.
While this is truly a ‘band’ – each member works seamlessly with the others – the centerpiece is Lee’s voice. Whether pushed to the fore (“Goodnight London”) or awash in a swirl of reverb (“Bluebell Fields”), his voice resonates. While perhaps not a technically perfect singer, it’s in the bent notes and key drift that much of the powerful emotion is heard – particularly in the title track, where his voice come completely unhinged at its apex. There is beauty in the imperfection.
Highlights include: “Bluebell Fields”, “Goodnight London”, “Letter to Yesterday”, “The Cruelty of Godliness”.