The annals of music history can be incredibly cruel to some of the most gifted, original and thought provoking musicians who have ever graced our increasingly lowly shores. There is also a hefty slice of good fortune involved in your name being mentioned in the same illustrious sentence as the Rolling Stones or Royal Blood (Ha ha ha). Right place, right time- or any other feeble cliche could accurately apply to plenty of the most commended British musicians in history; take Kate Bush. If she hadn’t been discovered as a precocious young 14 year old songwriter and introduced by a family friend to Pink Floyder David Gilmour, then would she ever have courted the same media attention she did as a young adult- and further catapult herself into music history? Probably, but that wouldn’t further my point. Davy Henderson, former lead singer of the influential but mildly anonymous group the Fire Engines, is the Scottish equivalent of ‘the one that got away’, and thankfully my apolitical stance means I’ll dismiss any potential puns there. Luck has never blessed a man who is capable of writing some of the catchiest pop songs one can ever hope to hear, along with choppy no-wave stompers, Beefhearty growlers and essentially anything in between. And when an artist of Henderson’s ability and talent seem to slip unnoticed past Pitchfork, and only generates fleeting references from the various low-key Scottish art-rock fanzines (if such things exist), attention must be drawn. Rather pompously, I have taken it upon my self to serenade Henderson with my kind words and high opinions of him. But who else will? Well, this leads me on well to reviewing his latest guise- The Sexual Objects’ bold, and unique new album Marshmallow.
Marshmallow is a modern day KLF-level experiment. The album dates back as far as January 2015, when it made miner music paper headlines. Why would the band The Sexual Objects, a band who you have NEVER heard of up until today, make the headlines? Well, back to the lazy KLF notion; The Sexual Objects originally released ONE copy of Marshmallow, to the highest bidder on Ebay. It was a delightfully prosaic way of showing his own bum to the music industry, lobbing the eagerly awaited album into the online bidding stratospheres and watch it drift away for a cool four thousand pounds. But, you’ll be happy to know, you have the chance to hear the album, and indeed read what I think of it- as I now possess one of a batch of 300 copies finally released to the general-ish public. Marshmallow is the kind of album that could only be produced by a singular talent, waiting in the wings for the slightest glint of recognition. An album that, for all its strange, idiosyncratic attempts at pop- never actually produces straightforward pop. The Objects are far too stylish to produce the kind of fay, jingling-jangling pop that Scottish alt-rockers are so often tied in to. Instead, this is an album that disguises its direction constantly. Opener Cincinnati Blooms begins in a muscular abrasive fashion. Henderson’s guitar squaks, skronks and screels as the band lock into an early Velvets-esque groove that seems, at first, unrelenting. Yet this album is allowed so much oft-overlooked room to breathe, that the track changes altogether. Cincinnati Blooms suddenly chimes into an airy popoid motion that generates a rousing, catchy sing-song which neatly segues into the lead single ‘Sometimes’. ‘Sometimes’ takes the baton and runs, at haste, towards the sprawling 70s glam mountains that this album so knowingly references. It is catchy, delicate, clever and should be a single. It never will. Marshmallow almost evokes The Velvet Underground’s underrated epic Loaded in its singular, serene approach to pop. It should, for the well versed listener, scream chart success. But its subtle organ blasts and moments of repetition make it a strange, unsettled version of this. The rest of this side follows in this direction right until the final track of Side A- the wholly excellent ‘The Shadows of Jet Planes’. The track starts with a strange ode to a renaissance fair, a strange soundtrack to an attic hosted game of dungeons and dragons, only tinged with a haunting beauty marked by Henderson’s understated vocal whispers. Then, with no warning, the track explodes into a pounding motorik drumbeat, jagged as it cuts through the lute, and the guitars suddenly soar into life. This is songwriting at its most joyous- a band who are revelling in the lack of expectation afforded to them, to flex their musical muscles, encompassing virtually every influence under the sun.
Side B- playfully entitled Kult Kream, which this writer rather pretentiously assumes is a reference to the aforementioned Marshmallow curdling (???), is a strange, jolting set of instrumentals. Openers Astratube and Anglia Wagen are odes to Henderson’s range and talent. One, another slightly haunting, this time lullabye-tempoed number is a strangely unsettling opening. Yet this gives away for another thunderous glam-rock stomper. These, however, are merely preludes to the album’s centre piece: the rather extraordinary ‘Squash’. ‘Squash’ is the kind of track that sounds like confidence exuded through music; think T-Rex stealing The Stooges equipment for a Funhouse era concert, whacked on speed- forgetting that their rollicking pop number had gone on 5 times longer than intended. Indeed at 16 minutes + in length, Squash is ambitious to say the least. Smashing drums, guitars that sound mere notes away from disintegrating in the band’s very paws, a repetitive, droning idiosyncrasy of song form. It is punishing, unrelenting, and for fans of any of Davy Henderson’s music- a feast for the ears. The album ends, slightly dryly, on the odd instrumental Pye Hill no.1, the only track not to be penned by Henderson, that ultimately (and rather sadly) suffers for this.
Marshmallow is a quite extraordinary album that, for all intents and purposes, is ultimately aimed at an extraordinarily small audience. In the decadent, easy access times we live in- music is eroded and devalued by its click-play nature. Those left in the ruins are bands like The Sexual Objects, a speck on the wayside, overlooked purely because of an absence of an eye popping record label, or spritely fake-tanned singer. This an excellent album that most of you will never hear. The conscience should prevail, though in these troubling times that seems unlikely. We should, could and must support projects like this. For your sake, as well as theirs.
To buy a digital copy of this album head here.
Words by Jack Young