REVIEW: William Control – Skeleton Strings

Skeleton-Strings-Art

Artist: William Control
Album: Skeleton Strings
Genre: Acoustic
Label: Control Records

When I was in first year of college, my two roomies and I were unceremoniously evicted from our flat. That’s a long story for another day, but I remember that the thing that most amused me in hindsight was the notion of how the council people would have reacted to the giant poster of Wil Francis in my room. It was from Aidan’s early days so it was suitably ghoulish and mad-looking, and suited the extremities of wardrobe and make-up I was into at the time. Now, several years later, it’s hard to imagine the phantom figure in that poster and the man behind William Control as being the same person.

Francis’ side project couldn’t be more different from the grimy, heated, screeching environs of the band with which he originally became well-known. It puts me in mind of another genre from my youth – darkwave. The old-fashioned, atmospheric, brooding music of the likes of the Sisters of Mercy or Bauhaus or Siouxsie Sioux. William Control doesn’t exactly sound like these great names, but there is a certain je ne sais quoi in his music that evokes the same feelings. It’s stark and sombre and almost funereal in its minimalistic delivery, with an equally stony sombre voice at its heart. It feels more personal for its lack of embellishment – and more compelling. There’s something about the simplistic approach that exposes the bare soul of the songs and shrouds you in their stories.

Skeleton Strings is part originals, part covers, though all are rendered with a similar quality and style. It’s unsurprising, given Francis’ deepened, monotone voice, that he should turn to the Smiths and Morrissey for inspiration. “Every Day Is Like Sunday” and “Last Night I Dreamt Somebody Loved Me” are both covered here, the former coming off as slightly more successful than the other. “…Sunday” excels for his strong, authoritative vocals and the pressing atmosphere he builds into it through his singing. It sounds melancholy, yet the minimal instruments give it an abstract quality. It is at once surreal and rich, as though the intensity of feeling is so overwhelming it almost leaves you numb. “Last Night…” is a more powerful form of grimness. Its hopelessness is tangible, emphasised by the pointed wailing that ends the track.

Francis also takes on HIM’s “The Funeral of Hearts” and Placebo’s “Every You Every Me.” His voice is peculiarly suited to a HIM cover, and in many ways “Funeral of Hearts” does work better acoustic. The poeticism of the original and all its fibrous imagery isn’t quite done justice by so bare a treatment but this cover does help to flesh out a rawer side to the song. It feels more broken and wayward than in HIM’s version, and slightly less lofty and eloquent. “Every You Every Me” is my favourite Placebo song, so it’s hard to imagine any cover doing it justice. That said, while the feverish pace of the original suits the song better, there is something very striking about this dressed-down number. The subtle vocal layering and harmonies add more lucid feeling and gives whispery, ghostly life to the haunted soul in the lyrics.

Of Francis’ own songs, the offerings are equally sullen and striking. Despite their bleak treatments, all are united by a sense of hope and resurgence breaking through the cloud of dust. “Free At Last” is exposed and pointed, teaming with hidden energy. It’s an intriguing opening number, immersing you in the style and atmosphere immediately while also sounding curiously final. “Heaven” says a great deal with very little. It’s determinedly bleak and feels racked by desperation and displacement, though the music itself is very primal and basic. “Noir” is another version of a song that was released on an earlier album. Romanticised, pointed, and sincere, its wounded sense of idealism is captivating. That these songs should sound so similar and yet so distinct is a testament to Francis’ nuanced talents – his is a sinister gift, and one I’m grateful to see more of.

More like a stern poetry reading than an album, Skeleton Strings is as engrossing and thought-provoking a listen as you’re likely to have all year. Its decidedly simplistic approach won’t work for everyone but if you are patient and thoughtful, its secrets will gradually unfurl. These are discoveries worth indulging.

SCORE: 9/10
Review written by Grace Duffy

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