There are two surprising things about David Thomas Broughton’s sprawling triple vinyl release Crippling Lack. One, is that it was recorded while he lived in Pyongyang, North Korea, not a country I’d ever associated with experimental English folk music.
The second is that he describes the tracks on its first volume, which are delivered in his Jake Thakray meets Vivian Stanshall way, as “pop”, albeit “deceptively approachable pop”.
Already he’s posing some interesting questions? Just why is an English folk singer living in North Korea? And, what does he think pop music actually is?
In total this collection straddles an hour and 40 minutes and is being released in three volumes, one at a time over three months between April and June, all on different record labels. This serialised global folk opus also features artists from the UK, USA, North Korea and France, including Beth Orton, Sam Amidon, Luke Drozd, Rachel Dad, Minjung Kwon-Brunoni and Aiden Moffatt.
While the first volume is promoted as being more appealing, Broughton delivers a warning for the second, as being “unravelling and disintegrating into barely structured fragments”. Meanwhile, the third ties the whole thing up, featuring some reprises from the first volume, Beth Orton’s appearance and a Luke Drozd collaboration called Plunge of the Dagger. This final track the press release worryingly describes as “euphorically unsettling”.
As Broughton suggests the first volume is indeed approachable, particularly the lovely opening title track, inspired by his time in the north west of England near the river Mersey. It’s beautiful and also introduces the listener to his distinct vocal style, which will not suit all tastes.
The track Beast focuses on his relationship with the tiny birds outside the expat compound of apartments in North Korea he lived while making this album. While I assumed the country’s main USP was jack boots and childish dictators, it seems for him the everyday relationship between tiny warblers and humans is a more pressing concern. Or is it a metaphor? Recorded on a vintage Farfisa with added bird calls it is once again not exactly what I’d call pop, but is nevertheless an intriguing track.
Best on the first volume is Words of Art, where Arab Strap’s Aiden Moffat pops in to bounce off of Broughton’s musings. With a full band feel with drums, Moffat’s bass like mutterings and Broughton taking the high notes across its seven minutes works well.
Volume two, while a little more experimental, is certainly not completely unravelled or barely structured. River is a lazy-drunk 1920s gospel, but with Sam Amidon on violin it is very traditional sounding and very structured. This volume gets slightly more unhinged with the 13 minute Concrete Statement but it’s not until this volume’s closer the 16 minute I Close My Eyes that I see what Broughton means by unravelled. This is indeed a complete and utter mess.
The third volume sees things improve, particularly on Beast Without You, which features Amidon’s wife Beth Orton, the album’s most well known collaborator. It’s actually the most approachable track on the whole album thanks to her distinct voice.
Finally, Plunge of the Dagger, featuring Drozd closes proceedings. This starts off nicely “unsettling” as promised but then, at about the half way point in its nearly 10 minute duration just descends into more mess, as if all involved have decided to fall onto, rather than play their instruments.
In the end the listener has felt like they’ve been taken on a journey. Along the way there have been some real highs, most notably the Orton and Moffat collaborations. There have also been some quite frankly unlistenable moments too, particularly on the second and third volumes. Did I enjoy it? In parts and over the year I’m sure I’ll find more to dislike and like in its tracks as I listen more. For now though I feel it is an epic project that is only partially successful in being something anyone would want to listen to.
by Joe Lepper
David Thomas Broughton – Crippling Lack Vol 1 was released April 4, 2016 by Edinburgh’s Toad Records. Vol 2 is released on May 2, 2016 on LeNoizeMaker Records in Lens, France and Vol 3 is released on June 6, 2016 on Paper Garden Records, USA.
For more information vist David Thomas Broughton’s website.