Photo: Sarah Iannone
August Wells - She was a Question
- Review by Noël Duplaa
Info: The collaboration between ex-Rollerskate Skinny frontman, Ken Griffin, and New York pianist, John Rauchenberger, August Wells release their sophomore album Madness is the Mercy on Sept 9th through Cork’s FIFA records. Following on from their brilliant singles ‘She Was a Question’ and ‘This Man Cries’ (both reviewed glowingly on these hallowed pages), the album expands on their established aesthetic and themes in surprising and rewarding ways.
"Here in the wild, under blue skies, time doesn’t try to pass me by."
From the very first song Griffen sets out his stall, sketching lost, sad and untethered characters whose ability to counterpunch horror with wry humour, keeps them ticking over, but just about. Look how quickly he draws you in and fleshes out the very first character: "Lucy was sad, sad to the core. She said, ‘let’s jump out that window, sweetheart on the count of four. Well, don’t you find it all such a bore? People like us don’t exist anymore - we’re invisible now. Sweetheart, we’re free.'"
August Wells - A Little Too Real
We've previously, (and somewhat ecstatically) reviewed the album's singles 'This Man Cries' and 'She Was a Question', and they served their purpose with aplomb, highlighting the oak-barrel baritone of Ken Griffen, the subtle but luxurious arrangements, and the deft, deliberate lyricism employed to hilarious and devastating effect in equal measure. However, the album pulls off the difficult trick of maintaining a strict aesthetic while never becoming dull or predictable.
Album highlight, 'Come On In Out of That Night' is the kind of gospel and blues tinged singalong, that Leonard Cohen mastered in songs like 'Closing Time' - soaked in booze and regret, but still full of love and fight. Granted, the album’s gears only really move from stately to jaunty, but simple elements of colour - the electric guitar in 'Daddy', the saxophone in 'A Little Too Real'- give the album a sense of depth and variation. By the time you get to the genuinely heartfelt plea of 'Have a Good Night Everyone', you really feel like you’ve been drawn into this rogue’s gallery, and like those great character driven movies of the 70’s, you may feel the urge to jump right back in and hang out with them all over again. We would advise you to follow that urge.
The combination of Griffen’s potent, expressive baritone and the stately, controlled presentation instantly brings to mind comparisons like Leonard Cohen, Scott Walker and Johnny Cash, along with more recent deep voiced luminaries such as Nick Cave, Matt Berninger and John Grant. The thing is, when songs are as stark and stripped back as these, there’s nowhere to hide shoddy lyrics or weak melodies, so it’s a shocking and heartening fact that with 'Madness is the Mercy', August Wells show that they have the chops, heart and vicious wit to stand proudly in that esteemed company.