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Echoes And Dust Reviews Burning Alms Album

"Burning Alms are making really great music and are deserved of a wider audience, which probably won’t happen, but for those of us who know…"

The search to find where the latest Smalltown America signings, Burning Alms hail from wasn’t that easy. It’s not really an important detail that they come from Birmingham, but their sound suggests that they might be from the U.S. The press shots of guitarist/vocalist John Biggs and drummer Tom Whitfield also provide a distinct American appearance.

On début album 'In Sequence' the influences are wide ranging and the styles variant; all in a very good way indeed. Lo-fi indie rock mixes with tender acoustic ballads and out there passages of drone; the most obvious reference point for me is the incredibly good and ridiculously overlooked Sebadoh. This album has the same spirit and ethic as their classic Harmacy album, the feelings I got while listening to In Sequence brought back some happy memories. Before indie guitar music became so shit, there was a time when brilliant bands I loved, like AC Acoustics, Sebadoh, Pavement and (early) …And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead roamed rock’s landscape. Burning Alms remind me so much of a bygone era and all of these bands, so you’ll know where this review is heading.

After an unnamed and brief intro, "The Aperture" gets things rolling with a blend of thrashing drums and manic guitars, the passages of brief melodic vocals recalling Trail of Dead. The drums get another hectic hammering over taut guitars in "So Unreal", vocals spat out on the verge of all-out punk, the glorious powering chorus recalling Sebadoh in their prime pop/punk mode. A great introductory double header.

There’s a brilliance to how Burning Alms make the vocals almost incidental to what’s happening around them, cramming the melodies in and just making them fit. This is showcased to great effect on "Mid Storm Still Ending". The dynamics of the album shift dramatically with "Night Climates", eight minutes of droning guitars and feedback, with a relaxing and random strumming/plucking up and down the strings. It’s infantile in execution but expertly done in controlling the flow of the track. Instrumental, the mid-section speeds up and provides some muscle before we’re ushered back into the drone theatre.

Another shift in dynamic comes with "The Pastoral", which recalls the curious mix of quiet/fury that Sebadoh used to do, Elliott Smith comes to mind as well with the sweet acoustic tone of the track. There’s a superb balance of punk and pop with the short sharp blast of Trail of Dead fury that is "Forest Clearing". Another Sebadoh trait was the use of guitars that verge on being out of tune forcing the melody to adjust accordingly, making for wonderfully skewered tunes, "Black on the Outcrop" is one such tune. The lo-fi production is a joy to hear in this modern era of studio sheen.

"River Sea Originates" shows that Burning Alms can do punk acoustically too. The vocals are layered to give a sweetness without being overtly saccharine. Then album highlight "Matadors" roars into your ear space, the most Trail of Dead song on the album, their trademark tom tom hammering and intense humming guitars matched with a vocal turn that could actually be a guest spot by Conrad Keely.

It’s odd to hear ‘In Sequence’, the title track, is four minutes of drone and samples with what sounds like a guitar being tuned, just shows that Burning Alms do their own thing and are comfortable with that. The experimentation continues with "Lapse in White", which sounds like one of those Jeff Buckley unfinished demos that surface every now and then. The same shimmering guitar sound he used on ‘Hallelujah’ is employed here, giving a beautiful radiance to what is basically an experimental oddity. "Certain Collapse" combines the punk ethic with acoustic guitars, the backing vocals of the chorus provide a highlight and then final track "(Birds) In Sequence" revisits the sample attack of the title track.

So, a lot of references to note there, but the list of bands are so damn brilliant and are intended as compliments to Burning Alms and their vision. Well done to Smalltown America for unearthing another gem for us, one of the last remaining labels on the planet to actually care. Burning Alms are making really great music and are deserved of a wider audience, which probably won’t happen, but for those of us who know…

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