Hmmmm now here’s an interesting one, an album that you can’t quite pin down, a record that incorporates so many ideas, a release that straddles genres and brings to mind a myriad of artists whilst managing to be completely unique.
Alterations by Mark Northfield is a challenging affair whereby the singer-songwriter has composed five “pop” tracks and then altered those tracks to transform them into classical affairs for a further five compositions and then to add to the fun he’s mirrored the track listing so track six is based round track five, seven from four and so on. If you’ve already read that and labelled this album as hard work or worse still pretentious, then you may land up missing out on one of the most unique and compelling affairs released this year (or any other for that matter).
So lets begin with the opening five so-called pop numbers, well first and foremost if you’re expecting chart friendly Euro-pop or throw-away/girl band pap you’re going to be disappointed, you see Mark’s take on pop in a little more oft kilter, in fact, think The Divine Comedy, My Life Story, Magnetic Fields or Rufus Wainwright as reference points, this is widescreen pop complete with wit infused lyrics, piano hooks, male/female vocals, lush strings and the odd hand-clap hook.
Take the opening number, The Death Of Copyright, for example, firstly that’s hardly a typical pop song title, then as the track begins the listener is treated to a flurry of strings, then there’s the trading of vocals between Mark and Ellen Jakubiel, whilst the biting opening couplet “I heard a pop song today, it was grimly efficient” proves beyond doubt that this no mere second-hand novelty. The clever use of instrumentation compliments Mark’s glorious almost nonchalant vocal approach beautifully as the track develops into an orchestral chamber pop masterpiece.
From there Mark continues to deliver a host of stunning melodies, intriguing lyrics, as his widescreen take on pop effortlessly twists and turns into new shapes. Highlights include the hand-clapping, finger clicking Nothing Impossible and the deranged electro/orchestral lyrical spiel of Headlonging, a track that opens with a short classical piece of music before adding operatic backing vocal harmonies to Mark’s scattershot, barely audible spoken word vocals, building to a cacophony of noise before slowly ebbing away to close.
And then we move onto Mark’s “classical” side only once again we discover that it’s a liberal use of the phrase classical as The Up Shit Creek Blues (based on the aforementioned Nothing Impossible) is a stunning jazzy, smokey take on orchestral blues, where strings and piano collide with near Portishead like beats to provide backing to a sensational passionate soaring drawl from Alexandra Howlett. From there Mark continues to serve up his unique vision with a combination of lush instrumentation, stripped down piano laments ,spoken word vocals (the Noel Coward meets Murray Lachlan Young of Reminders, Remind), musical influences (Paradise By Numbers sounds like it could have been lifted from Sweeny Todd) and spiralling odes to the weather (Forecaster).
And so, to try and sum up Alterations, an album that truly defies classification or definition, a unique almost cult like affair, a bewitching perhaps eccentric ten track epic quite unlike no other, full of drama, spills and thrills. Mark Northfield is a maverick genius, that the open-minded among you should hold in great admiration for creating such a daring and inventive release. If you want something truly different yet completely awe inspiring I highly recommend you track down Alterations.
Rhythm & Booze Rating 10
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