Artist: Talk Less, Say More
Title: Bonfire Night
Release Date: 21 April 2017
Genre: Pop / Rock
License: CC BY-NC-SA
Label: Records On Ribs
Bonfire Night is the conclusion of Talk Less, Say More’s Three Birds album trilogy. The album cycle started with England Without Rain, and continued on Violent. It’s a bittersweet conclusion which also marks the end of Matthew Jenning’s releases as Talk Less, Say More. If it was inevitable that Talk Less, Say More would reach a conclusion this record is a satisfying end.
As mentioned in the opening, this is the final release in the Three Birds trilogy. It is more nuanced, experimental, and diverse than the previous releases. Given Matthew’s history of mixing styles and ideas, that is really a tall statement to measure up to. However, he achieves this goal and makes it sound like it’s no big deal.
To get an idea of how challenging and diverse this recording can be, just look at a pair of tracks. On Worker’s Stadium we have a “stadium rock style” koto. What? Stadium rock koto? And yet, the next track, Mononoke, sets the koto in the traditional Japanese style. And then consider Things To Do With Your Hands At Parties, which uses the koto for a rhythm guitar.
A single track that stands out for unique diversity is Glue, which starts with a brass band and then turns into a swinging synth-pop tune.
But even with the interesting music twists (and there are a lot more than the provided examples) it’s all coherent, beautifully arranged, and natural sounding.
The lyrical content is just as diverse as the music. For example, 3am Phnom Penh, is a reflection on the passing of David Bowie. While never named, the combination of lyrics like “I know all the music they’ll be playing in London, Berlin and L.A.” and “Don’t the stars look very different today” set in a vocal style that is a direct homage to Bowie’s Heroes period make it clear.
On Soren and Regine, we have a reflection on the distance and separation in a relationship drawn in parallel to Kierkegaard’s relationship with Regine Olsen. Do You Beat Your Heart Or Don’t You delves into our ability to focus on any one specific thing: be it your heart beat, or a flower growing. Glue is a bouncy pop tune about insomnia. The title track, Bonfire Night, is an interesting examination of what it would mean if we could take all the parts of our personality that we perceive as negative and cast them into a fire, destroying them forever.
One of the things that makes this work interesting is being able to see the variation in thematic treatments between all three releases. The way relationships are perceived on England Without Rain is not the same as Bonfire Night. The references to the writing process changes throughout each volume of the Three Birds trilogy, only to conclude on Talk Less, Say More (Three Birds) with the line, “So no more songs for these three birds / No more agonizing over words.”
Having listened to the Three Birds album cycle from beginning to end, it’s not easy to say that this is the best of the three albums. It would be unfair to Matthew as an artist to try to rank these albums against each other: each has a distinct set of themes and musical ideas. Each recording in this series sets the bar higher in terms of wring, production, and arrangements. When considered as part of the progression of the trilogy, Bonfire Night exceeds it’s goals. And it’s not something that the listener can (or should) take for granted.
But when taken on it’s own, there is some criticism that can be leveled at Bonfire Night. One issue is some of the lyrics being a bit obscure. For example, I doubt that most people would get 3am Phnom Penh unless they are pretty serious Bowie fans. But, if the references are a bit obscure, it doesn’t detract from the enjoyment factor of the songs. And that’s what is important: all of the music and lyrics on this release are enjoyable, and engaging. If you listen to it like a standard pop album, you will enjoy it. But, if you dig a into the arrangements and lyrics there is a lot more to explore. That’s why Bonfire Night is a satisfying conclusion of both the Three Birds trilogy, and Talk Less, Say More.