30lbs of Air – Aliens (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

With the increase in activities in the Del Amitri camp and guitarist Iain Harvie dedicating himself to that excellent band full time, Tim May found himself looking around for a new sonic sparring partner to help him write a fresh batch of songs. This came in the form of Calum MacColl, a man who as a member of the all too short-lived Liberty Horses, is partly responsible for one of my favourite albums, Joyland. The fact that he was also, in recent years, found playing alongside the much-missed Colin Vearncombe, means that I hold him in high esteem indeed. And the result of this new writing partnership is glorious.

Aliens is one of those bands that rise above such nonsense as genres and labels, something that more bands should do. It allows them to explore sonic landscapes unhindered by demarcations and expectations, both the listener’s and their own. And 30lbs of Air, a reference to the amount of air that a person consumes and exhales in a day, is a set of songs that explore sky scaping rock crescendoes as easily as it delves into brooding, balladic lulls, it adopts pop-infused addictiveness as readily as it does poignant and powerful soundscapes.

If the term concept album comes with too much baggage, let’s just say that it is an album with a definite theme. War. Looking at the Second World War from the ground up, the songs are based around the thoughts and reflections, experiences and actions of the men who fought it. Tim May puts himself in their shoes and the result is a heartfelt account, often quite graphic, always wonderfully poetic, deep and emotive, of what it must be like to be trapped in such events.

As I said, it is an album of sonic extremes. Plague Dogs is a groovesome slice of rock, shot through with spiralling guitars and distant bugles, I Love The Leader is a stomping, rabble-rousing, blues-drenched anthem to blind faith, one that defies you not to punch the air in time to its bombastic beat and by contrast, So Long My Love is a delicate dedication to those who have been lost. (Incidentally, when this song is released, fittingly on the eleventh of November – Remembrance Day, all proceeds will go to  Cruse, the UK’s largest charity supporting those suffering from grief.)

As always, Aliens delivers the sonic goods, and then some. War is a difficult subject to write about, to get the right balance of both horror and humanity, the enormity of events and the personal stories, thoughts and experiences of those caught within, takes a deft pen. Thankfully, Tim May is that deft pen and Aliens are the perfect musical vehicle to tell such stories.

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