Graeme Downes

Hammers and Anvils

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Known for his impressionistic work with the Verlaines, Downes has on his first solo album stripped his band's portentous musical intricacies to unearth a core of pent-up inspiration. Having not put out an album since 1997, Downes seems to have had a lot of time to let things filter through a creative prism and crystalize as refined, elegant rock. His spiralling cries can seem a bit strained on some tracks but, for the most part, they complement his signature layered guitar and odd chord changes. Downes has sampled all parts here (except guitar and vocals), so the spontaneity of playing with a band, one of the Verlaines' strong points, is lost, but in some ways he manages to work this handicap in his favor, exerting the omniscient creative control of a gifted composer to full effect. Downes presents more than a few moments of brilliance in this set, with songs about everything from ozone depletion ("Cattle, Cars and Chainsaws") to one man's yearning for movement ("Song for a Hollywood Road Movie") to the relation between a Sunday afternoon soccer game and the slow death of a friend ("Sunday Kickaround"), all adorned with disparate ornamentation and unpredictable resolution.

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