Harry Deerness is the new project by Half Cousin songwriter Kevin Cormack, but this superb record couldn’t be further from that band’s brand of off-kilter skronk pop. A collage made out of innumerable clippings taken from a box of ancient cassette tapes, Harry Deerness takes the listener on a journey through myriad musical styles and eras, adds in a hint of modern devilry here and there and leaves it all buried under a fine dust of hiss and crackle for us to breath in and get on our fingers.
In places the album reminds me a little of the KLF’s Chill Out, on which the band created a fictional journey up the Gulf Coast by combining fuzzy radio broadcasts, steel guitar, field recordings and pulsing, blissed-out techno. Harry Deerness has even more of a back story though, and one which only adds to the air of mystery and intrigue. It reads that Cormack was on a day trip to the remote Scottish islands of Orkney when he was offered a crate of tapes by a girl he met. She had somehow procured them from an old musician in the town who she had been looking after. The girl then began a charmingly rag-tag blog detailing all the odd fellows she knows on Orkney under the pseudonym of ‘Marro’ (also a song title on the album), which by some odd coincidence seems to accompany Cormack’s re-appropriation of the old dude’s tapes rather well and is therefore linked to by the record label on a regular basis. Clever marketing or true story? Well, it doesn’t really matter because Harry Deerness is a thing of rare elegance and craft whichever way you come at it.
The sooty dreaminess that hovers across these songs comes from a similar place to Leyland Kirby’s spectral ballroom. The tapes fray in places, warp here and there and then cut suddenly to upbeat country pop twang. There are the briefest snatches of choir boys singing, snippets of people discussing everyday things and mangled voices that sound like EVP. But the overall tone isn’t especially dark. Instead it’s touched by a certain old-English chintziness; the sort of twee bric-a-brac that perhaps won’t be as familiar to my American friends who most likely haven’t visited (or would want to visit) a grim British seaside town or sat in a threadbare ‘caff’ watching rain clouds grumble by as they sip a cup of tea and wait for their fish, chips and mushy peas. For me the album is redolent of a time that was recent enough for me to have experienced it but has somehow crept even further away into the shadows than it was even then and only very rarely emerges into the light to make you feel a bit uncomfortable. The beauty of Harry Deerness lies somewhere in that recent untouchable past and that’s what makes it so tantalising, so evocative and so… ah, it’s gone again.