At Swim Two Birds – Before You Left

At Swim Two Birds - Before You Left

At Swim Two Birds - Before You Left

It’s somewhat of a double-edged sword for anyone brave enough to be romantically entangled with Roger Quigley (who trades solo as At Swim Two Birds and also under a band umbrella as one of The Montgolfier Brothers).  On the one hand, a Quigley relationship is pre-destined to end in an emotional cataclysm, to be deconstructed in painful detail just a few notches down from the indiscreetly lurid prose of Arab Strap’s Aidan Moffat.  On the other hand, the resultant navel-gazing will be dressed in the tailored-threads of old-fashioned chivalry and beatifically saturnine moodscapes.  It’s a dichotomous quiddity that gives British bedsit balladeers a good name, as this third At Swim Two Birds long-player attests.

With the opening almost a cappella eeriness of “Intro,” Quigley enunciates the core recurring lyrical refrain of Before You Left, as if it were a self-deluding manifesto commitment; “Before you left I told myself this is a good thing/The time and space to sort myself out.”  From thereon in, Quigley steers the record through waves of epic intimacy, like a broken man staring ruefully through the condensation of a Salford greasy-spoon café window, daydreaming vividly of lost love(s). 

Lyrically, Quigley draws diligently from the same wells as seminal break-up concept albums like Lee Hazlewood’s Requiem For An Almost Lady, Bob Dylan’s Blood On The Tracks, Smog’s The Doctor Came At Dawn and Elliott Smith’s XO; apportioning blame with a mixture of self-immolating regret and veiled-bitterness, as well as dwelling near-tearfully on the good times before the rot of irreversible bleakness set-in.  Musically, Quigley glides his murmuring multi-tracked croon across a cohesively-fashioned surface that subtly cross-references a spectrum of those with similarly melancholic persuasions.  Hence, the skeletal minimalism of “I Must Be Losing You” and the electronically-framed “Let Her Go” recall the cruelly-forgotten lush extremities of early lo-fi Baby Bird wares, such as I Was Born A Man and Bad Shave.  The magisterial string-adorned “The March of The Kings” nods respectfully to both Scott Walker and Tindersticks, whereas the elegiac “No Fear” is painted with gentler shades of Piano Magic’s 4ADisms.  Elsewhere, “Dead of Night” cops a sneaky-but-successful feel of Richard Hawley’s retro Sinatra-via-Sheffield evocations whilst the plaintive acoustics of “The Night We Ran Away” tip a hat to Leonard Cohen’s Songs From A Room. 

Overall, Roger Quigley’s soul-baring may be a pain in the heart for him, but it’s a generous medicine to the ears for the rest of us.  So although heavy with an omnipresent tristfulness, Before You Left is still a redemptive and uplifting affair for those looking to deeply drown their sorrows and then pick themselves up again, to find another person to fall in (and possibly out of) love with.  Melancholia with healing powers in short then…

vespertine and son