Charcoal Burners: Charcoal Burners (Charcoal Records)

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Elevator Shaft
Charcoal Burners: Charcoal Burners (Charcoal Records)

Charcoal Burners out of Dunedin are at core singers/multi-instrumentalists Andrew Spittle and Shane Gilchrist (both of whom have prior form) plus guests like pedal steel guitarist John Eugenes on the tension-release folk-rock of Chance, violin player Flora Knight (of The Eastern), drummer Steve Cournane (on the final piece Mid-Flight Man) and backing singer Molly Devine.

But the nub of these sometimes moody and disturbing songs – delivered by the paired vocals and mostly acoustic guitars of Spittle and Gilchrist – rests at a deliberately uneasy place between contemporary alt.folk, a very downbeat Finn Brothers and strange winter-blown ballads.

There are some odd, almost existential lyrics from Spittle here (the left-field take on the Karmic wheel on the desperate sounding West End Extra, the haiku-like economy of the lyrics on the piano ballad The Fantail where the three voices of Spittle, Gilchrist and Devine offer an almost choral evocation).

And on Elevator Shaft he offers a disturbing image which is hard to shake, and the song is increasingly propelled by buzzing electric guitar: “Pull back the grill, look down the elevator shaft, make out the corpse of the dead bellboy spraddled down there in the half dark” which then heads into a naggingly repeated “I was alone before you, I'll be alone before you remember, I was alone despite you, I'll be alone before I'm without you . . .”

It's an indecipherable mystery and a compelling song which you might just keep coming back to.

Elsewhere there is the emotionally taut Mid-Flight Man where images of fractured love and a trapeze artist co-mingle, and the haunting vocals and lyrics of Graham Greene in which the lover sounds obsessive and damaged, and the repeated piano figure adds to sense of claustrophobia.

On Firecatching they approach indie jangle-pop with a soaring melody, but again there is menace and even malice in the lyrics which belie the upbeat music.

There is something disconcerting at the dark heart of this debut album, so much so it leaves you wanting to hear more from this source just to clarify things in your head.

A dark ride.


March 2, Inch Bar Dunedin;

March 10, Grainstore Gallery, Oamaru;

March 24, Lyttleton Records, Lyttleton

more dates TBC

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