By: Sam Birkett
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Released on December 1, 2014 via Function Records
Weikie’s Murder Came Before the Word is an expansive and intimate album that blends post-rock textures with folk and americana. Recorded in Adam Weikert’s flat in Leicester ‘between a closed-down strip club and a casino’, the record sounds miles away. Weikert must have a sitting-room portal to the Appalachian mountains, because no Leicester ceiling has the height to contain moments of swelling instrumentation as on ‘Poppy’. Production is characterised by this openness throughout – Weikert allows the songs as much or as little space as they need, never feeling under or over-produced. His experience as a sound engineer and member of Her Name is Calla has made him a master of this aspect of his craft, and Murder is a joy to listen to.
Besides production, Weikert’s strongest suit is his lyricism. The album is cohesive without clutter, winding its way through its themes without too many moments astray from the path. The concept of inherent vice and virtue in humanity is the centrepiece: that murder preceded civilisation, is beyond language, and as Weikert said (in the same self-profile for the Leicester Mercury that his flat’s sobering locale was revealed,) ‘that human experience in all its peaks and troughs is shared across the ages.’ This is a lofty theme to be grappling with, and on the whole Weikert does it well. The first four tracks in particular paint a narrative of war, infidelity and loss sparked by the First World War across several generations of a family, and they move on all levels. The rest of the album never quite reaches the lyrical force of this first run of tracks, but there are songs of individual brilliance. Standout is Hare, a fable with the visceral language of a Grimm fairy tale and a moral on the burden of guilt that fits sombrely with the album’s themes.
Though on paper Murder may seem a gloomy prospect, the whole package is far from it. At their best the instrumentals fill the lyrics with vigour, and alone they are forceful and evocative. Most of these songs keep within the (admittedly hazy) borders of americana, being chock-full of banjo and strings and even the occasional jaunty rhythm. However, there is a texture throughout that rings of Weikert’s work with Her Name is Calla, and opener ‘A Heritage’ is a standard-bearer for this marriage of styles: punchy banjo is washed over by waves of synths and guitar in a surge that sucks you into the record. The songs that follow are fresh and faithful renderings of americana styles, with only a couple around the tail-end of the album losing fervour; an issue with the record is that, while Weikert’s lyrics are often fantastic, his lack of vocal range means that the power of his singing is reliant on whether the lyrics themselves match his tremulous tone. When they don’t mesh that arrestingly, songs lack the spirited presence of the best tracks. The flagging towards the latter half of the record is, however, redeemed by a monster of a title track – beginning with delicate piano and strings, it segues into a slow cabaret before peeling off into staccato, unsettling chords. The apocalyptic mood unfurls with expertly deployed synths and scrunches, skittering machine drums and lurching bass; it sounds like Kid A and Blue Valentine‘s messianic lovechild and it is absolutely intoxicating.
With Murder Came Before the Word, Weikie’s made an ambitious work that, when it meets its lofty aims, can be truly transporting. Despite occasionally falling short of that, it is a polished and beautiful record, thought-provoking and artistic, and easily deserves the minutes of your hours.