Manchester-based singer-songwriter Danny Saul doesn't hedge his bets on his debut album Harsh, Final. The one-time member of rock outfit Tsuji Giri and current partner to Greg Haines in Liondialer opens the album with a bold twelve-minute set-piece (“Your Death”) that starts out as a bucolic acoustic guitar folk instrumental but then extends into experimental territory with acoustic and electric guitars melding into a blur, a move that makes the music feels like it's lifting off from earth for ever-ascendant heights. Halfway through, chords penetrate the haze, followed by staggered layers of Saul's singing voice, after which the music again incrementally decompresses until it concludes with the same acoustic guitars with which it began. It's an auspicious introduction to a collection that identifies Saul as someone who may share certain things in common with the singer-songwriter tradition but shares just as much with explorative electronic practices too. The combination of vocals and guitar-generated sound sculpting makes for an unusual and arresting mix, and one that helps Saul's album separate itself from the competition.
If anything, Saul plunges even deeper into experimental territory when he uses an industrial churn of scrapes and creaks as an unsettling backdrop for his cryptic vocal musings during “My Escape.” Strip his impassioned vocals away from “Clockwork” and you'd be left with a grainy, guitar-based ambient meditation overflowing with stuttering effects and phasing treatments; as it is, the two components work together in reinforcing the track's mood of desperation. Framed by two brief instrumentals (“(harsh),” “(final)”), the recording's longest piece (its climax, really), the thirteen-minute “Cannonball,” ups the emotional ante even more by escalating the aggressive attack to such heights the music could be called shoegaze during its loudest moments. The album ends with the Hotpants Romance composition “Stop Escaping” (from It's a Heatwave ) that Saul delivers in a more traditional singer-songwriter style—not an unwelcome choice given the consistently untraditional pieces that come before it. Each of the album's seven pieces flows into the one after, making the fifty-three-minute recording feel as if it were laid down in real time, all of which helps make Saul's Harsh, Final come to life with an enhanced sense of urgency and immediacy.
This, Danny Saul's debut solo album, is a thing of beauty. And just like true beauty, it takes its time to unfold, disclose itself, and charm. It's only once you let yourself fall under the spell that its beauty becomes obvious to you. Saul is a singer-songwriter, but he works in a time span usually avoided by his fellow folksters. On Harsh, Final, the average song lenth is 10 minutes. Moods get set, electronic textures are developed, arrangements build up, and only then come the vocals (almost six minutes into "Your Death," for instance), subdued, soft-spoken, but emotionally-charged. The songwriting, attention to atmospheres, and equal importance devoted to the song, its delivery, and its studio dressing strongly evoke David Sylvian and Fovea Hex, with a hint of Peter Broderick thrown in, and maybe an influence from Peter Hammill's quieter, studio-centric side (Fireships, Thin Air). Ben Frost's The Theory of Machines also comes to mind, although Saul makes prominent use of the acoustic guitar as a foundation instrument. The highlights are "Clockwork" and "Cannonball," the latter a slow-boiling 13-minute song escalading to a powerful bottleneck guitar climax. Tacked at the end of the album, almost as an afterthought, is a cover of Hotpants Romance's "Stop Escaping," approached in a raw guitar-and-vocals way that makes too much of a contrast with what came before. That minor point aside, Harsh, Final is a focused effort, each track flowing seamlessly into the next, in a hazed disbelief-suspended mood. Beautiful and very impressive.
Thaddi Hermann - De:Bug Magazine (Berlin) (November Issue):
(rough translation through Google Translator!)
If this man shakes off the darkness, chewing the cud, his DSP escapades scale back a bit, then he becomes a star. Danny Saul, from Manchester has what it takes. His first album is a collection of introspective songs with a timid vocals. The rest is guitar. In each tone has as much space as he needs. Depressed and in the tails slightly distorted, so the frustration ebbs in our ears like the tides. Gently, yet only irrevocable. This is fascinating and just a little excessive. As if he wants to hide something is not quite sure if it fits everything so well. Let it out, Danny, you want to call out to him because it fits perfectly. So why did he build this protective shell remains unclear.