Don’t be fooled by the knackered guitar on the cover of Cubs’ new EP for Rusted Rail. Although their website says it was a casualty of the sessions that yielded Willowfield, it’s difficult to imagine it was victim to any kind of rock ‘n’ roll shenanigans as, for the most part at least, the collective keep things quite gentle.
Made up of musicians from The Driftwood Manor, United Bible Studies, Phantom Dog Beneath The Moon and others, Cubs dot their guitar miniatures with various movie samples, ranging from The Straight Story to The Hired Hand and cult English drama series The Prisoner. The samples provide atmosphere – not that the songs lack it on their own – and prompted no small amount of Google bashing on my part, although I got the Grizzly Man one straight away. There are hints of Sun City Girls in the wails that swirl around the title track, and the inclusion of instruments like bodhran and bouzouki in the mix further adds to the Eastern atmosphere on songs like ‘Passages From A Drunken Notebook’ and ‘With Candles We Walk’.
Ocassionally the collective allows external sound sources to invade. The subtle, muffled bumps that tip-toe through ‘When Skies Split Open’ are actually fireworks exploding in the background and ‘Hollycroft’ is full of clunks that sound as though the tape is being rewound mid-track. This is also the first evidence of dissonance becoming part of the Cubs sound – the screech and squeal of a melodica and what I think is a harmonica shows up now and reappears regularly hereafter before things come to a head on ‘The Last Day Of Spring’ whose epic sheets of guitar noise all but overwhelm the dainty finger-picking these musicians are so skilled at. Werner Herzog’s haunted voice opens ‘With Candles We Walk’, meaning the thoroughly absorbing Willowfield ends on a suitably chilly note.