Glasgow band Second Hand Marching Band were on our radar in the late 00s, during the explosion of exemplary folk/rock music coming out of Scotland with Frightened Rabbit, Twilight Sad, Meursault, Withered Hand etc. etc., and songs such as ‘Bypass‘ remained on our Top Rated iTunes playlist for a good while longer. Several years (and a laptop and iPod death) later, Second Hand Marching Band had been phased out of the library.
So it was a lovely surprise when the band emailed us about a new collaboration with Icelandic band Benni Hemm Hemm. Faults is a lush album of Celt-flavoured folk which draws upon a wide range of instruments and vocal styles, not surprising considering that both Second Hand Marching Band and Benni Hemm Hemm consist of impressively-numbered ensembles (see the list of members here and here). Opener ‘Cling Onto Those You Love’ emerges in orchestral swells, the strange, cryptic lyrics made clear by the titular refrain. ‘Dawn Raid’ begins with Malcolm Middleton-esque gloom, details of a mundane life coupled with a dejected outlook and general unhappiness (“Shuffle on shoes and light / A cigarette path as you scramble for life / I was the plan until today walked in”), and though it warms with the addition of vocalists and further instrumentation, the track never quite escapes this sense of grief:
“You leave me with no light in your eyes
You leave with no pulse in your neck
And you hover from one foot to the next”
‘Grandstanding’ is wracked with self-doubt, asking where one’s artistic endeavours fits amongst the classics, while ‘In a Serious Way’ is positively chirpy with its triumphant horns and harmonies, before ‘Shipcracks’ sees the tempo drop in favour of considered writing and clever worldplay, swelling into something carefree before the halfway mark to become a classic travelling song about looking back and moving forwards and marking the moment as it is lived, all at once.
“Skies on sea and shit from birds on the canopy
I’m lying, sunbathing on the deck, burning my neck
And I don’t remember if I’ve ever done anything else
I’m listening to shipwrecks and silence, and seagulls
Silence and shipcracks”
‘Misery’ is a strum-along folk song shot through with a sense of mischief, while ‘Skeletons’ is stripped back for the most part but comes alive in the closing third, urging us to choose a life of risk and wonder over seclusion and fear (“It makes more sense to know nothing / than to take a chance and clip your wings / So come on, I’ll take you round”). ‘Retaliate’ is deceptively intricate, an organic folk song full of poetic turns, a story reduced to a series of evocative images and implorations. The self-titled closer is simple but profoundly affecting, the staggered harmonies sounding like echoes or ghosts, words passing from times before us and after and fundamentally the same.
“The faults create mountains and cracks in our face
They won’t cover our mistakes in a million days
We take rocks to the summit as if we were great
Though the sky won’t fall, the earth still shakes”
If you like your folk and/or indie pop to come with French horn, glockenspiel, accordion and goodness knows what else, then Faults is probably the album for you. You can buy it now from Bandcamp, including on CD (though the special editions have sold out because of our positively glacial response time in writing about the album).