Friday, October 23, 2015

Album Review :: Ajimal - Childhood



November 6 2015 (Mono Records)


Words: Richard O’Hagan

It has been almost two years since we last heard from Ajimal and my how they’ve grown. From being little more than frontman Dr Fran O’Hanlon and a piano, they have not only spawned ‘Childhood’ but grown into a 51-piece collective in the process.

Whilst collaboration has always been O’Hanlon’s ‘thing’, ‘Childhood’ is something more than that, an album entirely focussed upon themes of childhood. To use an oft-maligned phrase, it is a 'concept album'. The big issue is that, in Ajimal’s hands, the concept doesn’t really come off. Their sound is so sombre, so melancholy, that it is almost the direct opposite of the loud exuberance of childhood. And whilst O’Hanlon occasionally captures some of the essence of childhood in his lyrics – the "I am invincible, surely unbreakable" refrain of ‘Nothing Touches Me’, for example – this is far more about someone looking back warily, wearily, upon their childhood, as evidenced by the "I’m not the future" references on current single ‘Apathy/Apatheia’.

Of course, the fact that the concept doesn’t really work doesn’t mean that the music can’t carry the album in its own right. To a certain extent it does, but at times it is very hard work. In fact, it is difficult to see just where those 51 musicians went, because for much of the time there is little more present than O’Hanlon’s voice and that piano.

‘Goudougoudou’ is seven minutes and 36 seconds of him being vaguely ethereal over the sort of plinky piano you find being played in the bar scenes of war movies; closer ‘When We Were Children’ is another six minutes of him being mournful whilst a piano plays. His slightly shrill, at times almost falsetto, voice is far from unpleasant but at the same time you keep wishing for a bit more oomph, a bit more verve, to creep in as pretty much every track plods along in a similar way at a similar pace. There’s an interesting little variation on the oddly-named ‘-‘, where a female voice intones over the piano, but there’s a limit to how often you’d want to hear a spoken word piece like that.

Far from being the musical equivalent of a happy upbringing, ‘Childhood’ is more redolent of those times when you were made to go for a long, cold and slightly damp autumn walk when you’d rather be at home with your toys.

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