Home Alone Music
Album number three for Ben Tolich – aka Mali Mali – and in that way you’d hope, you’d always want, he continues to grow, to mature, to further dazzle in his quiet, shoe-gazing way. Each new release building on the one previous.
The songs from 2013’s Gather ‘Round The Gooseclock made a huge impression on me. Since then Tolich’s music seems even more insular, homegrow, bedsit-inspired and recorded – these are the diary-like missives and head-held-high hopes of a quiet, thoughtful stoicism. The touchstones for this album are varied, straight away you’ll hear Sufjan Stevens – with a Kiwi twang – on Remembrances. And even if it’s just me that hears Elvis Perkins on Jesus Ain’t A Horrid Word I’m sure glad for the reminder and what feels like a nod. There’s Sun Kil Moon and Damien Jurado and Elliott Smith and all of the beautiful sadness of maudlin melodicism – throw M. Ward in there, and many others. But the most logical and obvious antecedent is Tolich’s second full-lengther as Mali Mali, As A Dog Dreams. Just as that built on Gooseclock’s nervous audacity so too does Azimuth, seeing Dog Dreams as the leg up to tunnel further inward.
There’s a special beauty to these recordings. For these are both classic melodic pop structures and tinkered-with folkish experimentations. These are the found-sounds from a late-morning stroll, from a dark afternoon of the soul.
The piano gently frames these pieces, the voice (sometimes double-tracking against itself in a spoken-song reverie) offers the main melody and grit but the accompanying textures of harp (Blizzard), cello (When We First Saw Saturn’s Rings) and cornet (A Tornado in El Reno) all supplied by Tolich’s wife Alice help to both instantly place – and give space to – these songs; layers of sound that feel both warm and inviting and yet suggest a slightly cool distance too. The perfect example is the instrumental Tornado – almost funereal in its soft, purposeful lurch; Jordan Ireland’s 12-string acoustic guitar sitting in behind the keys, a buoy while the sea-saw sway of the piano and horns lulls us away. It’s both standalone piece – album centrepiece in fact – and a long intro to the shortest song on the album, the Don McGlashan-evoking Hunting You Down. McGlashan’s feel and influence lingers on for the beautiful Ruru Cry.
Azimuth is a short album – just over 25 minutes, four songs on each side of a 45rpm record – but while it’s playing you think of nothing else, nowhere you’d rather be. I’ve been flipping the sides of this, over and again, playing it three, four, five times in a row. Each time I turn it I look all around as if hoping to find the secret.
The closer, Wavelength, is like a perfect goodbye kiss. You already wish to return. You’re sent off smiling, wistful. Sure you’ll be back but with a happy memory in and around the chaos of this world. A reason to come back. A reason to exist. A reason to be happy. A wee bubble around you. You marvel at the magic of it.
Mali Mali has just announced New Zealand tour dates for July, 2018.
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