AARON BUCHANAN AND THE CULT CLASSICS
Well, under two years on from Aaron Buchanan and the Cult Classics' debut album, it's being reissued with the 'Special Edition' tag. So, what's changed? What warrants a reissue so soon? I guess the major change is that they've shifted from self-released to signed status, inking a deal as they have with widely respected label, Listenable Records. Despite what some would have you believe, and with the exception of the ascendency and success, both arbitrary and toiled, experienced by various artists autonomously from any deal, there's still much credence and worth in having an established label backing your band... and a heavy hitting publicist. Aaron Buchanan and his clan now have both so, yep, I have zero issue with them capitalising on such with a swift-ish reissue. Good luck to 'em!
What else is new? While my promo copy only has two bonus studio songs, I gather the final released CD version will also contain three live tracks. Of the two new tracks, 'Fire in the Fields of Mayhem' is a lively piece, with both retro rock influences and a more contemporary, groove-heavy immediacy; while 'Undertow'... well, much the same, actually, and both fit in with the general rock/metal, retro/contemporary vibe of what precedes them. In fact, there's been discernible progression in the band's songwriting, so guess I'd rate these two new numbers at 8/10. As such, though, I stick by my original 7.5/10 score for the album and, for your convenience of click-saving efficiency, have pasted my previous observations below...
Fronting the now defunct Heaven's Basement for a four year period, until 2015, Aaron Buchanan formed a semi-eponymous band, Aaron Buchanan and the Cult Classics, just a year later. And, another year on, here they are with their debut full-length offering, 'The Man With Stars On His Knees'. Also featuring his sister, Laurie, and Tom McCarthy, both on guitar, as well as the rhythm section of bassist Chris Guyatt and sticksman Kev Hickman, the album was recorded at the UK's Plus 11 Studio (with some of the vocals tracked in Australia) and mastered at the legendary Abbey Road Studios.
I guess a natural assumption would be that the "Cult Classics" b(r)anding of Buchanan's latest outfit is indicative of their stylistic traits... at least in the context of his Heaven's Basement background. So, expectations are primed to be confronted with classic rock/metal proclivities... and, to a degree, this album is loaded with such. However, these genre leanings have been embedded and synthesised within some astute songwriting. Nods to rock/metal idioms of yore are there to be heard but, at the same time, presented in fresh-sounding compositions that have a surprising amount of depth. Not necessarily emotional depth all the way through (or, at least, in terms of emotional range); rather, instrumentations are nicely layered in songs' arrangements, to lend the core compositions a resonant rock boost through a full-sounding, multi-faceted sonic canvas. Therein resides songs' depths. It's more about invigoration through a tangible layered resonance, rather than affection through a conveyance of emotional depth.
Buchanan's voice is on good form throughout. Hooks, harmonies and other vocal divergences are all delivered with aplomb and a discernible energy. And the other musicians deliver equally fine performances on an album that holds some unexpected twists and turns. 'Dancin' Down Below' sees a growled vocal delivery over its final few bars... almost adding a death dimension to the song's rock essence. The mid to up-tempo first half of 'The Devil That Needs You' transforms into a down-tempo, groove-heavy stomp during its second movement. 'Morals?' has a theatrically charged arrangement and vocal delivery, without ever succumbing to clichéd histrionics. The heavy stoner flavours of 'Mind of a Mute' adds to the overall diversity between songs. And the vocal phrasing/delivery on the album's title track has an almost Thom Yorke quality about it. It's these kind of moments that elevate Aaron Buchanan and the Cult Classics' debut above standard rock/metal fare.
Production-wise, it all sounds great, too. Together with some great songwriting, and enough surprises to sustain interest levels throughout, this is a mightily fine start for Buchanan's post-Heaven's Basement musical activities. I'm not sure the tracks on here will become "cult classics" themselves, although it's a solid album nonetheless.
THE MAN WITH STARS ON HIS KNEES - SPECIAL EDITION
Review by Mark Holmes
22nd February 2019
1) Show Me What You're Made Of
2) All the Things You've Said and Done
3) Dancin' Down Below
4) The Devil that Needs You
5) The Journey Out of Here
6) The Man With Stars On His Knees
7) A God is No Friend
8) Left Me for Dead
9) Mind of a Mute; 10) Morals?
11) Fire in the Field (bonus studio track)
12) Undertow (bonus studio track)
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN:
"Nods to rock/metal idioms of yore are there to be heard but, at the same time, presented in fresh-sounding compositions that have a surprising amount of depth."