I will admit that going into this, I had no idea who Harold Nono was, or really what to expect from his latest album We’re Almost Home, released in March of this year by Bearsuit Records. I know that both he and the record label hail from the land of my birth, Scotland, and that his music has been described as both experimental and eclectic.
It took around ten seconds of listening to opening track ‘Menton Train Jump’ for me to want to review this album. A note of caution, though, before we get into this. This album is not an easy listen. ‘Menton Train Jump’ is arguably the most accessible track of this 13 track, 46 minute odyssey through sound. A beautifully industrial blend of chiming metal, bass and sawing strings it captivated me almost instantly.
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Track 2 – ‘The Shout’, and the strings grow harsher and almost threatening, underpinned by a thumping bass beat and an ethereal chorus, shifting into something both cavernous and shrill, a kazoo played by a eunuch in a coal mine, perhaps. Who can tell what depths of experimentation were plumbed in the construction of this singularly intriguing album? I mean… probably not, but we can always speculate.
Track 3 – ‘Annie & Bunny Got Fast-tracked’ is a delicious crash of orchestration and sax, upbeat and bouncy, something that might not sound out of place on a Professor Elemental album, at least to begin with, before being joined with more off-key brass and staccato electronic beats. It ends on a strained, wistful note.
Track 4 – ‘Gold Lamé Neckhold’ opens as a dark, wailing, faux-industrial track, before suddenly erupting into life and transforming into something beautiful that’s also quite reminiscent of something you might hear on a Jaga Jazzist album. An intriguing little track.
Track 5 – ‘I Thought I was Driving’ is an almost childlike respite from the darkness of the previous track. Light and quirky before again transforming into something that sounds like it escaped from the cutting room floor of a Terminator soundtrack, a cacophony of crashing instruments fading into silence.
Track 6 – ‘Shaking On An Iron Bed’ certainly conjures up images of the sax player frantically stomping and swaying atop the aforementioned bed as the notes blare out, the frantic instrumentation giving way to something softer, at once at odds with but complementing the electronic beats layered below.
Track 7 – ‘Let The Light In (Prince of Darkness)’ is a piece that wouldn’t sound out of place playing across some dark, lonely prairie, a distinctly neo-western feel to the sparse, thoughtful strings. In fact if this doesn’t show up on some upcoming Western movie soundtrack I think I’d be rather disappointed. I could see this fitting nicely into something along the lines of The Proposition, for instance.
Track 8 – ‘The Fall Reprise’ is a discordant, dishevelled, disjointed descent into darkness and disorder and that’s quite enough of that. This is the sort of track that some people will find intensely frustrating to listen to, lacking any true rhyme or reason to it, consisting of a strangely disordered clash of sound that creates something sad and thoughtful and beautiful all in one.
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Track 9 – ‘Ron’s Mental Leap Coach’ is my favourite title of the album. Here we find a lush track that evokes images of a certain dark, rainy city that hides rogue replicants and the people who hunt them. Vangelis would be proud of this one, I think.
Track 10 – ‘The Gurney Trips’ is another harsh, skin-prickling piece, spiders dancing across strings and keys to create something atonal and compelling, trombone and vocals and strings interweaving into a track that brings comparisons with Genioh Yamashirogumi’s iconic Akira soundtrack, at least until the organ and theremin crash the party and the track becomes something entirely unique.
Track 11 – ‘Red Dream Submarine’ is a difficult track to describe, even after multiple listens. If I had to compare it to something from a soundtrack it reminds me of something really old-school, like The 7th Guest. It’s almost quaintly retro in its presentation and is definitely one of the more obscure and difficult to define tracks in an album of curious and obscure tracks.
Track 12 – ‘The Art of Rosa’ is the penultimate track and sounds like something that could have been recorded from the thick, scratchy discs of a gramophone. A grinding, almost mechanical beat undperins the high, wailing, almost off-key synthesizer that dominates this track.
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Track 13 – ‘Annie’s Phantom Life Raft Choir’ wraps things up with another thoughtful, almost ambient track. A gentle goodbye after the occasionally difficult journey that is this album.
This album is an experience, and it’s definitely not an experience for everyone. Bold, experimental, dynamic and difficult are the words I would use to sum it up, but that’s not all. I went into this knowing nothing about Harold Nono, but now I would definitely count myself a fan. This album is like nothing else in my collection and that’s no bad thing.
Can I recommend this to everyone? No, I don’t think so. Not only are many tracks somewhat discordant, they can get a little samey if you’re not entirely paying attention. That caveat aside, is this worth streaming? Definitely. Is it worth buying? For me, it’s a yes. Give it a try, see what you think. What have you got to lose?
We’re Almost Home is out now from Bearsuit Records.