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Pony and Trap by Samuel Foxton Welles

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Reviewed on 26th July 2009.

 
 

Pony and Trap

By Samuel Foxton Welles

Debut album from Yorkshire-based individualist Samuel Foxton Welles is a charming, old-fashioned and eccentric trip through the English countryside, where the worst thing that can happen, is getting knocked off your bicycle while carrying a basket full of eggs, and all the locals know that you should stop to let a tractor pass.

Album-opener 'Spinning Like A Whirlwind' deserves extra points, just for having the good old fashioned Yorkshire saying "sleeping like a sausage" as a lyric. This saying is threaded into a litany, alongside other, sometimes completely nonsensical, lines, all delivered in Welles' trademark unenthusiastic style. It has a gently hypnotising effect that'll draw the listener into 'Spinning Like A Whirlwind's winding world. It's such a subtle effect, that chances are you'll struggle to work out what it is that makes 'Spinning Like A Whirlwind' so addictive - which makes it even more mesmerising.

In terms of music, 'Spinning Like A Whirlwind' can be divided into two sections. The first, are verses of an unobtrusive background jangle, punctuated alternatively by a darkly throbbing bass, and deep, rumbling keys. The second, are sparkling, chorus-like instrumental passages that blend a rustic whistle, with dewy chimes. The black-hearted verses, with their inwards-turning vocal rhythms, act as the whirlwind, and the glimmering choruses play out like the eye of the storm. Like almost every song on this album, 'Spinning Like A Whirlwind' isn't an immediate hit, but it's deceptively addictive, and well worth the extra listens required, to really get into it.

First single to be lifted off the album, 'The Earthquake' is a slow, hypnotically winding track with lyrics that recount the tale of an earthquake as though it's urban folklore. Turning on the very neat phrase "there's a rattling sound / all around / earthquake," 'The Earthquake' is a maddeningly catchy song, disguised as an unassumingly folk ditty.

This album's major selling point is Welles' voice and quirky lyrics. Therefore, the two songs that don't place an emphasis on these, are automatically less bizarrely irresistible. The instrumental 'Searching Graveyards' is sorely lacking Welles' vocals, but it still manages to intrigue, with a duet between a lamenting recorder and a trombone. The more upbeat blare of the trombone, exaggerates the sad wispiness of the recorder, giving it more emotional clout than one instrument should rightfully possess.

Although 'Working T'Machine' isn't an instrumental, most of the lyrics are restricted to a trudging background chant of "I'm working the machine / I'm working the machine" with the occasional, dour lyric layered on top. The backing chant is claustrophobic, and it's ingenious how the voices pump along to a piston-like rhythm that hammers Welles' anti-industrial message home. 'Working T'Machine' is an artistic embodiment of soul-destroying toil, it's just that there are songs on this album that are far more enjoyable.

'I Hate Cars' and 'I'm On My Tractor' are album highlights for the same reason: their lyrics.

"Four wheels bad / and two wheels good" anthem 'I Hate Cars' is one, long assault of grin-inducing lyrical gems. Welles chants "I hate cars / I hate cars / knock me over / broke my shoulder" before launching into a soulful croon of "but I love to ride my bicycle" with a full supporting cast of heartfelt "ooooh, ooooh" backing vocals. It's worth listening for the lyrics alone, which blend entertaining oddness with an utterly serious delivery style, and a few good points about saving the environment and saving yourself on petrol money in the process. However, it also boasts some great, angular riffs that means you can enjoy both the lyrics and the music.

And the lyrical oddness continues with 'I'm On My Tractor.' Once again, the sheer randomness is hilarious, while Welles' serious handling of the subject matter, is strangely charismatic. "I'm on my tractor / I'm growing vegetables" he sings, without a trace of humour. 'I'm On My Tractor' is the embodiment of the eccentric English gentleman. It lacks the neat musical hooks of 'I Hate Cars,' relying on knocking percussion, and not much else. If Welles had fashioned this song with a few more musical hooks, it could have been an English countryside anthem to rival 'I Hate Cars.' As it is, it's a few steps behind 'I Hate Cars's brilliance.

Album-closer 'What A Terrible Day' shimmies along to a bluesy rhythm, complete with finger-clicks and humming, while Welles does a surprisingly good impression of a blues singer. But, this being Samuel Foxton Welles, the song isn't about your usual blues fair. Instead, he laments about being knocked off his bicycle, while carrying a whole basket of eggs, and said eggs breaking. The first half is funny and dripping in cool, bluesy vibes, but Welles is guilty of overcomplicating things towards the end, burying the lyrics that made 'A Terrible Day' so great in the first place, and losing some of that slick, bluesy swing.

'Pony And Trap' is a homage to the fast-disappearing English countryside and olde worlde way of life, and Samuel Foxton Welles' English eccentric persona radiates through the lyrics, and is utterly irresistible. 'I'm On My Tractor' and 'I Hate Cars' are gently humorous, nostalgia-drenched must-hears, and are guaranteed to brighten your day, while perhaps making you think differently about the way of life Welles is describing.

 

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