Time of Dust
Ed Harcourt is a talented performer and a great songwriter, sometimes his music has felt just a little too perfect – too correct – for me. He can do the earnest piano balladeer thing, the influence of Tom Waits is so clear, in both that role and in wanting to offer something a little more spooky, ever so slightly creepy and unhinged. But much like Damien Jurado, I’ve found it just as easy to step away from a lot of Harcourt’s music as I have to absorb it, to sit inside it a while.
Well, Time of Dust is a welcome return – a mini-album more so than an EP, it seems to offer more depth, six songs, it’s a half-hour listening experience, that’s long enough for most people.
Opener, Come Into My Dreamland has a reverb-soaked piano line before strings sear across it and soft swipes at the snare and cymbals help to frame a song that sets up a mood for the rest of the record – a mood that feels like it might if M. Ward and Nick Cave did their best, working together, to come close to a version of Waits’ Alice album
From there it’s to brittle-breakbeat drumming for In My Time of Dust, a huskiness to the voice and another tale that might have come from Waits’ lyric-book but feels more like the band Elbow – albeit with the oomph and grunt that band seems to (sorely) lack.
The Saddest Orchestra (It Only Plays For You) is haunting, hypnotic, traces of Cave’s No More Shall We Part album, if only in the way the piano tinkles. Harcourt’s voice reminds of those early, vital recording he made – as if still finding his voice in a songwriting sense but so confidant to soar in a time when so many people sought to replicate whichever of the Buckleys they thought they could get closest to.
We All Went Down With The Ship adds creepy synth lines to the aural picture and a semi-industrial drive to the rhythm, just a touch Nine Inch Nails, more so for the way the vocal works in and around the wind and weave of the piano in the pauses within the stop-start rhythm. It’s like – don’t laugh – early Coldplay attempting The Downward Spiral.
Parliament of Rooks returns to the M.Ward-at-the-piano feel that this recording opened with, a choir of voices in support before we close with one of the strongest songs of Harcourt’s career, Love Is A Minor Key. Here there are no tricks, just a gorgeous voice and a sweet, simple melodic line. A Rufus Wainwright that’s not playing (for) camp tricks.
Harcourt makes his version of Record Collection pop – you spot the soundalikes, the antecedents, the ideas for where he hopes the songs will go and ideals of where they came from but he’s so very good at it. And this is a major return to form. One of the smartest sets of songs – no filler at all – from a musician who has always been worth listening to, but doesn’t always create something that begs you to return. Time of Dust has that beckoning finger all about it. It lures you (back) in.