In the liner notes of Son of Evil Reindeer, the Reindeer
Section are photographed like a grade-school class, in four tiers
against a bare white wall. It's the kind of picture that would be
taken in a cafeteria or gymnasium. In it, 24 of the 27 (!) members
present wear a common uniform: white shirts and striped blue ties. In
relation to their music, their decision to be portrayed like
adolescents is revealing. For many, that age marked the time when the
notion of love arrived and took hold, without a vocabulary or a set
of instructions. Pure heated feelings coursed uncontrollably. And
wading through early crushes, each one its own bottomless pool, was a
complicated, amazing and likely devastating series of steps few were
equipped to take.
Like love and its complexities, the songs themselves, with simple
titles like "Grand Parade" and "Your Sweet Voice," and simple lyrics,
often almost spoken, on top of delicate melodies, work on many
levels. The fact that Son of Evil Reindeer was recorded in two
weeks works in its favor the album captures a real sense of
place, of loss, and, mercifully, of redemption.
These juxtapositions are best expressed with subtlety and certainty
in two songs, "Where I Fall" and "Cartwheels," which serve as the
album's heart. When Reindeer Section founder/songwriter (and Snow
Patrol frontman) Gary Lightbody sings, in a plaintive voice
reminiscent of Lou Barlow, "I just want peace/ And quiet in my head/
Can't find it in the bars/ Or in my bed/ If you like I'll take your/
Number from my phone/ Lock the doors and/ Turn the lights out in my
home," his last words pass as a whisper.
But then, at just the point when it seems like folly to imagine
anything but darkness, optimism and light unpredictably yet
somehow inevitably surface in the form of "Cartwheels."
The Reindeer Section's first album, Y'All Get Scared Now Ya
Hear, also came together quickly, after a dream. As the story
goes, Lightbody awoke with an album's worth of songs he knew weren't
earmarked for Snow Patrol. Soon after, and after quite a few pints at
a Lou Barlow show, he enlisted some mates from other bands he admired
to get together and record. With Lightbody as conductor, a loose
collective of moonlighting musicians, the Reindeer Section, was born.
Participants in the impromtu 10-day session included members of Belle
& Sebastian, Mogwai, Arab Strap and others on the Glasgow scene.
For a record produced on a spirited whim, Y'All Get Scared...
was a mostly quiet, folky and introspective collection that, upon
listening, provoked the same response as a visit from an old friend.
Though the songs were new, they felt familiar and they were
On Son of Evil Reindeer, the cast includes members of Alfie,
Idlewild, Teenage Fanclub and The Vaselines, as well as artists from
the class of '01. And though 27 musicians really did contribute to
the album, it sounds better than the first, and even more lonesome.
The new contributors assimilate seamlessly into the group, yet it's
hard not to notice moments, of differing success, when their
individual styles are asserted. While Teenage Fanclub's Norman Blake
is present, for the most part, in spirit, singing backup on two
songs, The Vaseline's Eugene Kelly sings a lovely duet, "Strike Me
Down," with Jenny Reeve (from Eva) standing in for Kelly's longtime
collaborator, Frances McKee. Kelly's gentle singsong interplay with
Reeve wouldn't have been out of place in sound and mood
as a G-Rated B-Side to the Vaseline's "Rory Rides Me Raw" or to
"Jesus Wants Me for a Sunbeam," a track covered and made famous by
longtime admirer Kurt Cobain on Nirvana's Unplugged in New
"Last Song on Blue Tape," with Alfie's Lee Gorton singing lead and
brushed along by John Cummings' acoustic guitar feathery
compared with his work as one of Mogwai's anvils is wispily
anchored by Belle & Sebastian's Richard Colburn and Mick Cook on
brass and percussion. Due, in large part, to Colburn's melancholy
brass work framing the track, "Last Song..." becomes a more overt
reflection of his other band's work. It's a good piece but, as
it stands on its own, it also stands apart and sounds more like a
guest spot than anything else on the album.
As on Y'All Get Scared..., Lightbody is
again responsible for composing a set of songs trading mostly in
fractured relationships and failed love. For fans of the sad, of
quiet contemplation and bare emotion, Son of Evil Reindeer was
made to measure. Throughout the album's dozen tracks, the sentiment
Lightbody conjures evokes real pain and real beauty.
The Reindeer Section, as a band, are young, but made up of players
who are far from neophytes. Their deftness of expression is
inspiring. And, considering their numbers, it's impressive that they
maintain an unwavering tone and voice.
Son of Evil Reindeer is an accomplished work. As on the first
record, the songs on this one never have to jump through hoops to
sound real. They just are. And it resonates like an album that's had
some time to cook, even though it hasn't. A brand-new band has made a
brand-new record that arrives sounding old. Not old as in stale, but,
in the best sense, like something weathered and worn. A child
arrives, fully formed, like a gift, and somehow knows.