Aaron McMullan, writer and folk/punk musician has released a new album, Swing Hosanna, Sing The Salt. While McMullan may not be the most prolific of musicians, his material is always of the highest quality and this release is no exception. While previous releases like Yonder Calliope and Angus After All were wonderful, they were like the introduction to this work.
McMullan’s work is not what you’d call conventional by any means. Think more stream of conscience poetry set to music rather than your bog standard folk song and you’ll have some idea as to the difference. In other words we’re not talking about crooning Ed Sheehan or the dulcet tones of some bloke or woman singing on about Morris Dancing either. These songs are wrenched from the heart and should only be compared to the above on pain of death.
Okay that’s maybe a bit of an exaggeration, but McMullan’s songs aren’t nice little ditties okay. Some are tough to listen to for their rawness. Some are surreal enough that you just ignore the lyrics save for the wash of emotions and feelings they might create spontaneously when you hear them. If these were paintings you might call them abstract, expressionistic, or impressionistic.
The lyrics and his voice pull at your heartstrings and attack you on a visceral level. You live the songs with those he’s singing about. You’re drawn into the reality McMullan creates and start to experience life through the life of the people who populate the tracks. Confusion, love, angst, anguish, and anything else you care to mention, are all part of the messy thing called life.
McMullan captures the experience of living on this album far better than almost anybody else I’ve listened to. His songs have a poignancy and empathy which allow them to communicate thoughts and emotions effortlessly. Of course it helps that he doesn’t try hard to “sound” emotive.
His voice is raw and real. He doesn’t have to convince us of his sincerity, he merely has to open his mouth and sing. On others this type of honesty might sound affected, but with McMullan it is as natural as breathing. One song from his lips is far more powerful than any hundred you might hear from any of the so called heartfelt singers out there.
His lyrics echo the poetry of Keats and the prose of Joyce. Seemingly obscure words tumble together to form emotive pictures in our imaginations. The opening track on the album, “Tilt To The Maythorn”, gives listeners fair warning they’ve entered previously unexplored musical territory. “Tilt to the Maythorn, come hornpipes and drums/It’s three I see dancing on the dunes/Three it is or four but it’s no more than four/Woken in the rumbling of her womb/Three or four it is that dance there within her.”
Every track on this album is pure poetry. But this is poetry grounded in gritty reality not abstract reflections on love or beauty. A prime example of this is the 13 minute or so piece placed smack dab in the middle of the album, “Lamplight Suite, For Soot and Tall Mirrors”. A beautiful swirling piece which takes you on a little journey into the heart and mind of its protagonist and his reflections on what his life has amounted to.
What will he leave behind him when: “You know a day will come when the day will dim and they will trolley you in/And they will trolley you out/And the last of you in streaks of blue and black about the sheets/And the numbers that they’ll scratch into the heels of both your feet/And the code that shows the date the time the door the ditch the street.”
McMullan might sound a little exotic to North American ears; he’s from Northern Ireland and sounds like it. His lyrics echo with the sound of the back alleys, streets, and rooms of Belfast. An unrefined noise the likes of which probably won’t be recognized by, and offend those, used to the sanitized Irish of once a year St. Patrick’s Day parties.
Aaron McMullan’s Swing Hosanna, Sing The Salt is a wonderful chaotic dream of an album. While not for those faint of heart, or mind, it is as fine a piece of imaginative working as you’ll ever hear.