The last time we heard from Half Cousin’s twisted pop maestro Kevin Cormack he was serving up dusty platters of nostalgia as Harry Deerness, a shellac-encrusted codger communicating through the medium of warped old vinyl and cracked cassettes. It was a fascinating twist to the Half Cousin tale, and one that – if it were ever necessary – confirmed there was always more to Cormack than meets the eye. As jaunty as his songs often are, they tend to hide dark secrets and the quintessentially British fustiness that he allowed to cloud Harry Deerness was his creeping shadow made manifest. There’s a sense of ‘back to the day job’ about Fantasy Belt, the third release on the fledgling UK label Spillage Fête Records, but it is not without its own distinctive charm.
Always the minstrel, his band of merrymakers following suit with a ramshackle selection of rough-hewn instruments, Cormack delights in unsettling when things would otherwise seem perfectly comfortable. He revels in his own thick Scottish accent; the use of rolled R’s is particularly striking on songs like ‘Skinny Henchman’ when it sounds as though he’s conspiring with you, one eye on the door should he need to make a sudden escape. There is a tip-toeing quality to these songs, especially on ‘Distant Dirt’ whose guitar picks its way tentatively around his carefully enunciated lyrics like a cat creeping through a graveyard . “He mimics what he finds exotic,” sings Cormack, “he’s always been that way,” before he loops and echoes himself over a building shoulder-twitch groove. The title track, with its billiard ball clicks of percussion, is similarly slinky before a sudden clang of horns and guitar brings it crashing down in a heap of tangled strings and brass.
There are some interesting characters dotted throughout (although none are quite as alluring as Deerness), including the aforementioned skinny henchman, and on ‘Well Known Local Musician’ you can’t help but wonder whether Cormack is placing himself amongst the slippery procession of ne’er-do-wells. Certainly there’s an air of wistful reminiscence in his voice as he sings lines like “I remain a reminder of him” and I can’t work out whether he’s worried about being forgotten or terrified of getting too famous and losing touch with what he loves. It’s a precarious tightrope when you’re in his position; serial observer, sublime puppetmaster, teller of stories… slip one way and you’re the story, slip the other and no one’s listening. His balance, for now, remains sound enough.