The Deer's Cry
Malojian justify the hype with an accomplished debut album that draws from their back catalogue and features classic alt-folk influences
When Malojian, aka Stevie Scullion, released his debut 4-track EP The Broken Deer in February 2012, it was met with unanimous praise, not least in these (virtual) pages. Critics noted the dreamy pop melodies, the subtle, economic way with words and the aching heartbeat that characterised every song regardless of its tempo.
The music Scullion has produced – firstly with ‘alt-folk’ outfit Cat Malojian, and latterly as a solo artist – has been likened to talents as diverse as Neil Young, Nick Drake, Oasis and Super Furry Animals. Snow Patrol’s Gary Lightbody even picked out the song 'All I Need' for praise in the pages of Q Magazine, saying: 'I’m completely obsessed with this gorgeous song.'
There must have been some pressure, therefore, for Malojian to deliver the goods when it came to this first full-length outing – as much from within as from without. But if that was the case, it doesn’t show on The Deer Cry.
Unsurprsingly, perhaps, Scullion has included hree of the four tracks from The Broken Deer EP featured on this album: the irresistibly catchy 'Julie-Anne' and 'Often Wonder', as well as the simply beautiful 'All I Need'. But it this is to be his break out long player, then why not?
Opener 'The Deer’s Cry' features a pounding drum pattern, a discordant guitar solo and beautiful harmonies underpinning Scullion’s fragile, egg-shell vocal. The imagery isn't half bad either, with Scullion gently chiding us for our faults as he raises a cup of tears and ‘toasts the human race’.
'Tea-Time Song' follows. One suspects it started life as a song written to amuse Scullion's young daughter. Its opening lines – ‘Onions, gravy, mashed potatoes and chicken for tea / eat it up, it keeps you going all night’ – bring to mind Mary Poppins singing to her charges if she had been employed in a working class home.
Scullion’s own childhood experience is reflected in 'Mario', with its tale of kids playing in the streets ‘til long after dark before computer games came along to spoil the party. ‘You were the ruination of my world,’ he beomans the titular Super Mario, as horns, guitars and drums meld into what sounds like an Italian street band with tuning problems.
Interviewed in Hot Press earlier in the year, Scullion argued that, for him at least, ‘the melody is the master'. That dictum is evident in songs such as 'Checkmate' and 'Do You Believe?', with their seemingly effortless catchiness, hypnotic rhythms and soaring harmonies.
But to this listener, it’s the ballads on The Deer’s Cry that lift it from the very good to the sublime. 'The Old Timer', for example, is simply heartbreaking, a cousin to Neil Young’s 'Old Man', whilst instrumental 'Winterlude' revisits Nick Drake territory.
But it’s 'Watch the Rain' that you're sure to keep returning to, though. Carried along by gentle acoustic guitar, Scullion’s bruised delivery attempts to soothe with words he isn’t sure he himself believes. ‘Keep your head down / it’ll all work out / that’s what they say but I don’t know anymore’ he admits, before the killer admission: ‘I never knew the dark could be so blue.’
Other instruments slowly bolster the sound before a hesitant harmonica solo tiptoes its way into, then out of the song, followed by strings as fragile and forlorn as the singer’s hope. It’s a masterful recording by an artist who seems to have a deep well of talent to draw from.
Grace under pressure was how Ernest Hemingway famously described ‘guts', and Scullion has delivered an album of power, grace and beauty without any failure of nerves. For that we should all be thankful.
The Deer’s Cry is available to download via the Malojian BandCamp page, and will be followed by a widespread physical release in February 2013. Malojian play a free gig at the Oh Yeah Music Centre on Thursday, November 8 at 6.30pm as part of Belfast Music Week.