Duotone – A Life Reappearing

Album Review | Garrett Brown Music | Review by Marc Higgins | Stars: 5/5

Duotone is multi-instrumentalist, songwriter and live looper Barney Morse-Brown. A classically trained Cellist, an accomplished guitarist and fine vocalist, on so many levels A Life Appearing is the musical equivalent of watching someone rubbing their stomach and patting their head while riding a unicycle and playing a kazoo. Live the looping is breath taking as the unassuming Morse-Brown builds up layers of sampled Cello, Keyboards, Guitar and vocals. But you don’t marvel at the showy virtuosity, what pulls the air from your lungs is the beautiful way the layers mesh together to make a delicate and perfectly formed whole. He does the right things, not the flash things and is quietly spectacular, helped by his deadpan demeanour and a passing resemblance to a Steampunk scientist. The album opens with “A Life Disappearing”, a smoke like instrumental with layers of emotional cello, percussive guitar and choral wordless vocals. “Hear You Whisper” takes the long Cello notes and builds a subtle acoustic love song, blending perfectly from the instrumental track before. Morse-Brown’s inspiration for this album came from the book “A Shepherds Life” by Victoria Crowd. The book contained a series of paintings that document moments from 20 years in the life of Shepherd Jenny Armstrong. The richly coloured, atmospheric and slightly melancholic paintings directly influenced the imagery in linked songs “Hear You Whisper” and “The Room”. Blending the melancholia tinged perfectly formed 60s Folk of Nick Drake with the layered vocals and atmospherics of Bon Iver this is definitely one of my albums of the year. “Halfway House” showcases Duotones’ resonant acoustic guitar, timeless and beautiful. The song dissolves into a choir of circling vocals like the finest moments of the Fleet Foxes or Great Lake Swimmers or a time capsule of perfect Laurel Canyon American singer songwriter vocal harmonies. “The Faintest” builds atmosphere with Cello and the layered vocals of Ben and Kris Drever. Delicate, perfectly balanced the perfection of this track stretches time in a William Blakeian way as you lose yourself in each moment. The punchy pace and anthemic refrain at the end recalls the power and atmosphere of Elbow, hypnotic and heady. “The Faintest” reprises later in the album with a resonant electric guitar lead and an aching strings melody. Martha uses the voice beautifully with a plaintive lead from Ben and a distant wordless chorus that makes the track sound brooding and cinematic. The album cycles closing with A Life Reappearing, an affirming positive note carried by a classic Duotone strong earworm melody that builds then dissolves. Like Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks, Nick Drake’s Bryter Later or the already mentioned Bon Iver’s For Emma Forever Ago. This is a rare delight, a set of songs and music, linked by narrative, mood and theme that can be listened to as a shimmering whole but stand up perfectly as individual jewels. As John Peel said, in another time and another place, a lifetime ago on the sleeve of the first Pentangle album “Play this record to those you love”.