Tuesday, 7 May 2013

Antony Harding - Only Pipe Dreams in the Pipeline

Antony Harding, former drummer with Hefner and individual artist going by the name ANT has, for many years, been involved in musical projects that have maintained a remarkable consistency.  Like his former Hefner band mates Darren Hayman and Jack Hayter, the quality of his individual work has meant that even people like me - and I still include We Love The City in my top twenty albums of the century thus far - have longed ceased to mourn Hefner in favour of delighting instead in the releases of their past members.

So it's probably fitting that I'm playing a track from Antony's new album in my May show on Dandelion Radio, given that the show also features a session from Ramalama Codex & The Universal Unconsciousness, featuring Mike Seed from The Chasms, another much-loved band whose individual members are now helping to mitigate any post-split hangover by striking off in all sorts of interesting musical directions.

Whether the members of that band will ever prove that the parts can match the output of that considerable whole, we'll need to wait and see.  But Harding has long since proved himself to be worth of far more than the title of 'former Hefner drummer'.  Regular readers of this blog will know that I regarded last year's album The Birds Sing Goodnight To You and Me as the best thing released throughout 2012.  When an artist reaches such an incredible high on a single record, I tend to make the rather unreasonable demand on him that he both comes somewhere near repeating the standard as well as taking us in a very new direction.

It's a difficult thing to do, as Gonjasufi and Best Coast bore out last year, both releasing albums that registered barely a murmur on whatever scale might be devised to gauge the impact of a follow-up to a masterpiece.  Harding, however, has sent the needle off the scale: With Only Pipe Dreams in the Pipeline, he manages to astonish and surprise in roughly equal measure and to follow up the apparently unmatchable with something of similar quality.

It's a mini-album, once again released on the We Were Never Being Boring imprint, and it manages to combine the understated brilliance of last year's majestic offering with an audacious sidestep into the realms of the instrumental.  Shedding the lyrical glory of The Birds Sing..., Antony Harding finds himself, musically, naked, armed only with a bunch of acoustic instruments including his mother-in-law's old mandolin.  The mini-album is less than ten minutes in duration, but it loads so much onto its tender frame to leave me checking my watch in genuine expectation that at least half an hour will have elapsed between the mini-epic of 'When The Woodland Path Is Dry Again' and the album's celebratory closer 'Come In Spring and Wipe Your Feet'.

In between, not a single strum of pluck occurs without leaving the listener in breathless anticipation of what's to come next, so that the only realistic response in finding that your lukewarm cup of coffee has outlasted the album's densely packed charms is to put it on again.  Having listened again you realise why he's gone for a purely instrumental collection, because these are tunes which demand to be listened to in their bare, sparse brilliance and to give it words would be not merely unnecessary, but the musical equivalent of adding in too many coloured paints until it all goes brown.

Such a move requires the delicate judgement of an artist with a brilliantly refined ear, and we already knew Harding possessed that attribute.  I'm playing 'When The Woodland Path...' in my May show on Dandelion Radio.  At 2:16 it's the release's longest track and I would hope that those of you who've been responding so well to the Hungarian punk, abrasive electronica and relentless garage guitar barrages I've been shoving your way recently can find a room for this in your hearts.  If not, I reckon it'll do you good to give it a listen anyway.

You can get a copy of this gem of a release at the We Were Never Boring bandcamp site here.  Health warning - don't be fooled by its fragility: it still has the potential to take up a fair chunk of your life.

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