There are many annual traditions that I look forward to. The Mercury Prize, so I can see what jazz album won’t win for another year. The FA Cup Final. Regardless of who is in the final I’ve watched every one, bar three, since I was about four. Hunting for conkers in parks. And the release of a new Les Denis album.
Now, I know what you’re thinking. No, this isn’t an album by the light entertainment star Les Dennis. Try and say it ‘lay deni’ and you’re on the right lines. Since around the year 2000 this is a collective of musicians who get together one day of the year and write and record an entire album in 25 hours. They allow themselves two takes on each song then they move on. It really works as this approach gives the songs a charmingly immediate, ramshackle, vibe.
‘Too Far Gone’ has a Jon and Vangelis vibe to it. ‘Hazelnuts’ has a charming jazzy feel to it. The vocals feel like a warm embrace on a cold day. ‘Old Song’ is the closest Les Denis gets to a conventional song. It opens with lethargic guitar and monotone vocals, then luscious country-ish guitar emerges, with oboe and drone like keyboards. (Like a lot of the album) It shouldn’t work but it does. So very, very well. The chorus is the delightful “Let’s sing an old song, back from when we were young” but the lyric of the song, and album, is “Sing to me in Semaphore”. This creates such a whimsical image in my mind that is hard to lodge. ‘First Thing’ might be the strongest song on the album. Lo-fi beats, spoken word vocals and sounds that wouldn’t be out of place in a BBC sci-fi show from the 60s all help to create a feeling of joyful unease. Then the guitar kicks in. All distorted and discombobulated. As it progresses there are laughs, snatched pieces of conversation and the sound of people having a good time. Which Les Denis is. They’re having a blast, and so are we as we listen along.
Tassels and Tinsel is the strongest album that Les Denis has released to date. The songs are catchy, clever, and captivating. This is a testament to what can be achieved in a limited amount of time. Of course, all the members of the band, collective, project, whatever, know what they are doing. They aren’t slouches at their instruments and confident enough with their ideas. The real joy is that we are experiencing the songs in the same way the band are. Some of the versions we’re hearing are probably the first takes. Which only makes the Tassels and Tinsel even more remarkable.