The evolution of Slim Twig’s growing musical catalogue provides a study of modernistic intrigues dedicated to reworking the cinematic element of the both the baroque and the derelict back into music. A Sheik in Scores in the summer of 2010 hinted at the realm of film scores sampled to us with “Paisley Skin”, “Slit to the Hilt” with a “Lust for Love” that brings us to the neo-classical, alt-baroque manic majesty that is, A Hound at the Hem.
In press releases for Hem, Slim presents this record as the “hard psyche flipside” to this year’s previous album offering Sof' Sike, attributing the lush arrangement influences to Nabokov’s Lolita, the self-taught orchestration instincts of Jean-Claude Vannier and the heady nouvelle-funk du Serge Gainsbourg's debauched Histoire de Melody Nelson. But beyond the tagline bill, Slim challenges the former precursors by operating on the modern masters' volition of creating both the literary and musical novel as the Canadian-American artist moves toward becoming a multidimensional impresario. Further evidence of this ability and role are the results of his love-letter-to-the-70s production work on fellow Calico co-operator Meg Remy’s new U.S. Girls album, GEM (Fat Cat).
From very beginning you hear that no longer are the strings and keys sampled but rather recreated like the theatrical, red curtain trimmings that outline the rock and roll crooner’s carnival on the grand stage heart of “Heavy Splendour”. The string arrangements from Owen Pallett, and the St. Kitts string quartet frame the abstractions like guiding angelic wings through the challenges of handling Twig’s musical splendor; heavy with dark, jagged edged underpinnings. With Slim’s brooding intensity he begins the piano-harpsichord driven “Clerical Collar” of reflecting on the days of wearing a “younger face” to the “how many times” call and response voice alterations that ping pong back and forth, while “Widow, Were You Younger” resounds like Hubert H. Hubert’s disenchantment with Lolita's mother. “Shroud by the Sheetful” presents Slim blending the scaling moods and classical elements that move the album like a streetwalker’s parade into the mouth of the mortuary. The funereal processional turns into the piano rhythmic, power pop swagger of “All the Wanting” that illustrates the neo-baroque style in its most accessible guise. Those that venture through the challenging brood of “Splendour”, “Clerical”, “Widow” and “Shroud” are rewarded with album’s second half that kicks the multi-conceptual LP into high gear.
“Hover on Silver” turns up the album’s narrative intensity with upgraded analogue electro impulses that move across spondees into keyboard collages wrapped into lyrical distress. “Only today, grief came knocking, I turn it away, tell him to keep on shopping”. Like the fuzz guitar electrics from the heydays of 60s/early 70s Gainsbourg and Vennier’s production density; “Maintain the Charade” brings these elements in full blast that end in sweet, cacophonic discord. It is then when the final curtain rises, “Blonde Ascending (Come Into the Clatter)” presents the tragic bravado in sweeping strings, electric guitars working like the same using minor keys that open into major swells with Twig’s invitation to enter this self-designed musical void.
The aberrated and lascivious provocations of the aforementioned influences are exchanged for Slim’s own experimentations with a palette composed of both modernist and current mediums. While this album will take a few listens for those unfamiliar with the challenges of incorporated orchestral and rock elements within a conceptual work; fans of the Jacques Brel-Scott Walker school of transgressive baroque will have found a new masterpiece to dissect for years to come. Those that can get behind the sometimes atonal, dead pan crooning, dark veiled setting arrangements and lurid subject matters will discover A Hound at the Hem to be one the best post-glam concept albums not made in the slippery 70s.