Exit North – Book of Romance and Dust album review

30 05 2019

Exit North are Thomas Feiner, Steve Jansen, Ulf Jansson and Charles Storm. Lead vocalist Feiner first worked with ex-Japan musician Steve Jansen on his 2007 solo album Slope, and Thomas also had a connection with David Sylvian, who released an updated version of The Opiates – Revised by Thomas Feiner & Anywhen on Sylvian’s samadhisound label in 2008. Feiner and Jansen continued working together, adding Jansson and Storm to what became Exit North in 2014.

The band’s debut album Book of Romance and Dust was released on CD in October 2018, but has recently been added to streaming platforms.

If you are a fan of Japan / Rain Tree Crow or Talk Talk, you will find plenty to love on the Exit North album. I also hear touches of another jazz-influenced band that I love, Cousteau.

Comparisons aside, this is a stunning debut. A heady mixture of dark nordic electronica, interspersed with acoustic instruments, Book of Romance and Dust makes great use of space and restraint.

Bested Bones is a beautifully paced opener, underpinned with sumptuous strings, and a slowly building rhythm.

“What could have been, what will become”

Short Of One Dimension is an early highlight. An Americana inspired guitar line is slowly buried between piano and trumpet lines, and a heart-beat bass drum provides the pace. The music suggests huge open-spaces and dry-heat, and has a little of the feel of some of the mood of no-man’s returning jesus album (which also featured Steve Jansen).

Sever Me contains one of Feiner’s best vocal performances on the album. Underpinned by piano and minimalist strings and electronic buzzes and hums, this is a moving and measured arrangement and performance.

“The hurt I can disguise, the bruises hide, far below”

Passenger’s Wake features decaying notes and bar-room piano, before mutating into a heavy chorus, that feels a little off-kilter compared with what went before. There is nothing wrong with an unexpected turn in a song.

The haunting instrumental North ushers in the second part of the album. Lessons In Doubt feels like it was born in the previous century, and reminds me a little of Jacques Brel. Samples, strings and percussion drift in and out of this touching torch-song, delivering a chorus that stays with you long after the final notes end.

Spider features lyrics by Ndalu de Almeida (aka Angolan writer Ondjaki), with music that builds and expands to one of the album’s fullest arrangements as the track progresses.

There is no let up in quality for the closing tracks. Losing features the most unique vocals on the album. Feiner’s drawn-out baritone wrestles with the wordless female vocal line, and the reverb drenched strings and piano refrains tug at your emotions. This song (and indeed the whole album) works best on CD, with the lights off, and the volume high.

Losing is by far the longest track on the album, with half of the song devoted to a slow-paced, minimalist ambient piano and electronics repeated refrain.

Another Chance has the feel of Sylvian’s Brilliant Trees, one of my favourite albums of all time. Decaying strings and deep synths underpin the piano, with Thomas Feiner’s wonderful double-tracked vocals finishing off a powerful closing statement. The album ends on a really optimistic note, and I hope we hear more music soon from Exit North.

Book of Romance and Dust is a beautiful debut album that deserves to be heard by a wider audience.

“Give me one minute more”

Bested Bones
Short Of One Dimension
Sever Me
Passenger’s Wake
North
Lessons In Doubt
Spider
Losing
Another Chance

Buy Exit North – Book of Romance and Dust on CD from Amazon

https://thomasfeiner.bandcamp.com/
https://exitnorth.bandcamp.com/





Japan – A Foreign Place – The Biography (1974-1984)

10 10 2015

Japan – A Foreign Place – The Biography (1974-1984) is a new in-depth look at one of the most influential (and often neglected) bands of the late 70s / early 80s.Japan - A Foreign Place

Published exclusively by Burning Shed in deluxe hardback edition, the book features contributions from former band members Steve Jansen, Richard Barbieri and Rob Dean, with archive material from David Sylvian (who did not contribute directly to the book) and the late Mick Karn.

Anthony Reynolds 212 page book starts with the early years of the band, and provides a fascinating insight into the musicians formative years in South-East London (Catford and Lewisham).

Along with the obvious 70s musical and cultural starting points, such as Bowie, Bolan, Lou Reed and Roxy Music, other surprising influences such as Motown and New York’s Television crop up as feeding into the mix of what was to become Japan.

The influence of Simon Napier-Bell and the lack of money making its way to the band, even during their most successful Tin Drum period, is well-documented in the book. In these days of a reduced and weakened music industry, you often hear about the golden era of the 70s and 80s when artists sold millions of albums, so its easy to forget that not everyone reaped the financial rewards during this bygone era.

The most interesting part of the book for me was the pre-fame years – especially stories about the early gigs, where Japan shared the stage with acts as diverse as Blue Öyster Cult and The Damned. The often negative audience reaction seemed to give the band the strength to ride the criticism that was to come their way over the next few years.

As well as talking to the band members, Anthony Reynolds also gives a voice to key-collaborators such as guitarist David Rhodes, along with school teachers and friends of the band. This helps to frame the time-scale of the story, as the band moved from being a guitar-heavy, new wave inspired band to the more electronic, layered experimental outfit that eventually found chart success and critical acclaim.

The Tin Drum album and the farewell tour are covered in depth in the book. Listening today to the bands most famous song Ghosts reinforces that its as moving now as it was when originally released all those years ago – late 1981 to be precise. The songs stark arrangement has certainly helped the song age gracefully.

The role of producers – particularly John Punter and Steve Nye (who worked with David Sylvian on several of his post-Japan solo albums) is explored and the sections on the recording of the later albums makes for fascinating reading.

Some awkward moments are also touched on in the book – including the falling out between Karn and Sylvian that led to the band’s disintegration, and the Gary Numan misunderstanding on a Japanese tour.

Reading Japan – A Foreign Place made me listen again to the bands catalogue with renewed enthusiasm. I rediscovered songs that had passed me by at the time, such as Fall In Love With Me and Alien. I also fell back in love with the Tin Drum album, especially the percussion work of Steve Jansen (Visions of China has such a unique drum pattern).

Japan – A Foreign Place is well-paced, and clearly written by a fellow musician who is a lifelong fan. The words and (many) pictures give a flavour of the various stages in the bands short but colourful career. It is also pretty fair in the amount of time devoted to individual members – its not the David Sylvian story, and its good to hear more about the contribution and personalities of Richard Barbieri, Steve Jansen and Rob Dean.

My only criticism is that the period covered by the book ends in 1984. I would have liked to have read about Rain Tree Crow, the post-Japan collaboration from 1991 that remains one of my favourite 90s albums, and is a period that is not really well-documented. Also, because of the timescale, there was no opportunity to discuss the time Jansen, Barbieri and Karn spent working with no-man in 1992. Maybe Anthony Reynolds will consider writing a post-Japan book?

Ok, I’m off to listen to Quiet Life and Tin Drum, followed by Gary Numan’s Mick Karn infused Dance. Why don’t you join me?

Buy Japan – A Foreign Place – The Biography (1974-1984) from Burning Shed

Buy Gentlemen Take Polaroids on Amazon

Buy Tin Drum on Amazon

Buy Exorcising Ghosts on Amazon

Buy Quiet Life on Amazon

Buy Gary Numan – Dance on Amazon








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