Occasionally, an album will rise from the depths of the underground fully formed. It's a thrilling thing, reminding us to never stop scouring the shortwaves for brilliant and innovative art.
News from Nowhere is the fourth album from London psych-folk rock outfit Mr. Love & Justice. It is built around lazy swaying drifting acoustic guitar melodies, which are verdigrised with psychedelic pirouettes - banjos, vocal harmonies, organs and percussions. It's a sound that links the entire history of London, from punk and rave to stone circles and Neolithic ritual.
Steve Cox is the cornerstone of Mr. Love & Justice, who is joined by a band of merry string pluckers, beatsmiths and organauts, such as Ian Gregory on drums, who has played in the popular psychedelic XTC side project The Dukes Of Stratosphere. It is these little touches that draw you forward, that make you lean in and realize that a lot of love and attention has been lavished on these timeworn but timeless tunes.
"Give Back My Heart" starts things off with a mellow raga rock, along the lines of The Brian Jonestown Massacre when Anton Newcombe isn't being a psychopath. Acoustic guitars are transformed into microtonal shruti boxes, while understated marimba melodies underpin Cox's reedy vocals. It's somehow evocative of both India and Africa, at the same time, while still being rooted in Albionic soil. It's a poppy and accessible lead in to Mr. Love & Justice's world.
"Hollow Crown" is a bit doomier, moodier and more pensive with glistening post-punk guitars and a stomping beat. It has the same exotic beauty of Faith-era The Cure, a similar bedsit meditativeness as Felt before Lawrence went synthpop. The traditional miserabilist greyscale pallet of post-punk is shot through with opalescence, thanks to the gelatinous waves of mild flange. It is these kinds of detail that show Mr. Love & Justice know what they're doing and how they're going to do it. They have a clear and distinctive vision, which gives them more time and energy to focus on the details and crafting something unique.
It is this focus that makes for true underground success. News from Nowhere was predominantly recorded at home, over the span of two years, but you'd never know it from Mr. Cox's fidelity. Even the most humble recording software can be capable of greatness, but it takes a lot of effort and know-how to achieve it. Effort, technical knowledge, individuality, innovation, accessibility - what more does one need for a four star record?
It seems to me that Mr. Love & Justice's strong songwriting allowed the troubadours an opportunity to hone in and focus on crafting something excellent. The more you listen, the more is revealed - as phantom horn lines emerge, like on the spectral mood of "Doing That Time."
If you like '60s music of any stripe, from The Beatles to the acid-mangled folk of Pentangle and The Incredible String Band, you will be transfixed by News from Nowhere. Also, aficionados of more recent artful pop, most specifically Elliott Smith, will be transfixed by the small details and exquisite craftsmanship of News From Nowhere. This is a major win for folk rock, perfect for the latter days of summer. Throw the windows wide and let the guitars ripple and shimmer, transforming your world into a gypsy caravan.
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