Declan McKenna

Stains EP

(Canal+ /Revelation)

This young artist has created quite a buzz around him and his musicians and has an impressive listing of upcoming shows around Europe and the UK. There he is on the back cover in his parka standing by a street sign reading .’Borough of Broxbourne CHESHUNT – Twin Town : Stains, France’. On the front cover he gingerly finds a chord on the neck of a Tele/Strat hybrid guitar, stray string ends sprout from the headstock. Not a hint of a hint of the type of music we are about to hear. So let’s play the disc…

The inside credits state that all material is written and performed by Declan McKenna and lead cut Paracetamol commences with churchy organ and stealthy bass. The story of a lost soul is delivered in a damaged voice…’a girl of fifteen with her head in a noose’. What sounds like lo-fi reverse delay fuzz guitar seeps in, mixed with electronica. Sounds like this guy is an impressionist painter using music as a canvas and apparently reflecting a world fairly alien to this listener. The crash of the chorus works well, in a Lewis Del Mar kind of way. There is a soul inside this sound. Brew sounds sinister from the outset, the instrumentation not readily identifiable until and delay-effected guitar arrives.

A mournful warped chorus precedes an anguished questioning lyric underpinned with tuned percussion. The drum part seems like an afterthought, unsure of its presence here. Atonal keyboard rambling is speeded up and down, taunting the ears and that reverse delay is back. It is unsettling, sneering at traditional song structure to raise a finger. Brazil has tinny piping keys and clear guitar motif that wouldn’t disgrace an Echo & The Bunnymen song. The light vocal is at the top of his range but sounds impassioned in this other-worldly setting.

This music seems to have no discernible roots source but does conjure up its own soulful feeling with its little sonic flushes of reverb. What any of this has to do with Brazil escapes me and McKenna is welcome to mock my imperceptions. Basic sounds like a drunken machine coming to life and gasping for oil. Offset chorus guitar suggests detachment but is likely just an accidental tone utilised on the spot. The delivery is a hybrid of speech and singing. The staccato passages have a strange wimpiness as though McKenna isn’t quite sure of himself though the kiddy keyboard break sounds emphatic.  Howl has hint of hire ‘I don’t care for attention that much’ he wheezes. Yet he is a performer, make your mind up, pal.

Curious and very haunting music by a bloke who emulates nobody in particular. Is it Emperor’s New Clothes or a new brand of soulfulness. We shall have to go and see him play and I’ll bet we are confounded a second time.

Pete Sargeant


Declan McKenna's 'Stains' EP is out now.

Declan McKenna