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This eponymously titled new venture is comprised of Willie Dowling and Jon Poole, two men who, aside from their various bands (Honeycrack/Jackdaw4 for the former; Cardiacs/The Wildhearts for the latter) have previously forged careers as session musicians, producers and songwriters, with Dowling also composing TV/film music that has seen him work with comedy luminaries such as Steve Coogan, Armstrong & Miller, Rob Brydon, Stephen Fry and Simon Pegg. Apparently, they met while recording/producing Ginger Wildheart's '555%' album, clicked musically, and decided to "do something together". Hence 'Bleak Strategies', which was financed by the musicians' fans through one of the web's crowd-funding platforms (Pledge Music in this instance).

So what are we dealing with here, musically? Well, on the surface, and my gut reaction when first listening to 'Bleak Strategies', was to label this as deranged pop. Deranged pop in a very good way, that is. A few listens later, and fine tuning my ears to the music's multi-faceted styles (this is music with a lot of depth), led me to, perhaps more appropriately, put this under the banner of pop/quasi-rock-prog psychedelia. I know that sounds a little pretentious, although think Barrett-era Floyd fused with some of The Beatles' more experimental moments, some stupendously great vocal harmonies la The Beach Boys, a sprinkling of Jefferson Airplane et al and, well, you get the picture. At times, you could easily be mistaken for listening to something from the late-60s/early-70s (with, at times, an early-80s twang), albeit with a more contemporary production.

This album will not be for everyone, this is indubitable, and such is the very nature (and essence) of experimental music. To be entirely honest, I wasn't even sure if it was for me during the first couple of listens, although its genuinely progressive proclivities eventually won me over. It's certainly not wildly experimental throughout as there are sonic handles aplenty to start engaging with the songs on 'Bleak Strategies', although this is, nonetheless, pretty innovative stuff. Give it time, get over its initially jarring quirkiness, and you'll discover a gem of a record, loaded to the brim with profoundly charming sonics, both instrumentally and vocally. The perfect antidote to all the pop (or, rather, pap) perpetuated by that evil genius, Simon Cowell. This album would give him nightmares.
369 Records
Review by Mark Holmes
11th August 2014
1) The Sun is Mine
2) A Kiss on the Ocean
3) Hey Stranger
4) Saving it All for a Saturday
5) Paper, Scissors, Stone
6) Empires Buildings and Acquisitions
7) Where the Memories Fester
8) Twilight Subplot
9) Getting a Licence to Clean
"The perfect antidote to all the pop (or, rather, pap) perpetuated by that evil genius, Simon Cowell. This album would give him nightmares."