Let’s get potential “selling points” like the fact that this album was mastered by Valgeir Sigurdsson out of the way, and head straight towards the fact that this is, quite simply, a magnificent album. Danny Saul, who appears to be a mainstay in Manchester’s music scene, may be known to some as a former Xela collaborator. At a time when shoegaze-influenced pop sensibilities are more than a micro-trend, “Harsh, Final”, Saul’s solo debut album after almost ten years of live collaborations and ill-fated band projects, should help him gain wider recognition.
With beautiful three-minute miniatures and epic ambient pop pieces that clock in at around the twelve-minute mark, “Harsh, Final” covers a lot of territory between the opener “Your Death” and the album closer, a deeply melancholic version of “My Escape”. The latter is a cover version – the original being by Hotpants Romance – but Saul’s rendition is so intimate that it’s obvious he’s made it all his own. At the other end of the album, “Your Death” has the listener expect a more ambient album, before, almost six minutes into the track, Saul’s voice has its first appearance. When I first listened to the album, I almost jumped for surprise.
What is it, then, that has kept “Harsh Final” on my playlist constantly for about two months? Its fascinating blend of relaxed guitar strumming and highly concentrated, deep arrangements. But also the dynamics of the longer pieces, the cunning take on the singer-songwriter format this album presents. It’s clearly a pop release, but at the same time way beyond any radio format. And Rachel Goodyear’s intriguing watercolour drawing/painting on the cover doesn’t hurt either. 8/10 -- Jan-Arne Sohns (4 November, 2009)