Lockdown’s end is looming. Our chance to reconnect is in reach. Life can be fruitful once more. Yet, this past year has been a ‘Strange Time’ to say the least and MF Tomlinson’s debut album chronicles our shared experiences of isolation through his subtly grandiose, acid infused folk lens of the world à la his East London home.
Tomlinson has been an in-demand musician throughout his varied performing career. Now in what he calls his “final incarnation” as MF Tomlinson, he debuted the project with the ‘Last Days of Rome’ EP in March last year, completely oblivious as to just how prophetic a title that would turn out to be. Tomlinson, like the rest of us, consequently became confined to the surroundings of his own home for months to come. But this allowed him to revisit a creative innocence to his songwriting that had laid dormant since his teenage years. With the help of his MF’s (the dozen or so “very talented motherfuckers” who contributed to Tomlinson’s debut album), ‘Strange Time’ defies the limitations of isolation through both its collaborative creation and its humanistic ethos.
The album’s opening title track exudes tones of recognisable humanity: “I wanted people to go ‘that’s what it felt like to me when I was stuck in my house,’” says Tomlinson in a press release as his lyrics lament over the days “drifting into weeks, slipping into seasons” while his sax lines twirl above Joseph Conner’s feathery electric piano and Yigit Bübül’s (Dan Lyons, whenyoung) pattering percussion.
'Spring' opens with blissful flutters of birdsong, preceding a luscious sonic bed of autoharp, trumpet, cornet and clarinet where Tomlinson explores existential themes of the world being reclaimed by nature and “belonging to itself again.” Central to ‘Strange Time’ is the extravagant seven-minute acid folk epic “Them Apples”. Revolving around a Greek chorus led by Connie Chatwin, “and so every day was the same” forms the pertinent mantra upon which Tomlinson’s visions of statues begging with their bodies bare and pleas for the world to talk to him flow alongside iridescent guitars and bongos which harken to Love’s seminal album ‘Forever Changes’.
Ending the album on a jaunty note, 'Thursday, 8pm' disregards Tomlinson’s own reservations on the value of the weekly NHS ‘clap for carers’ and instead serves as a reminder that humanity can and will prevail, a sensation that he captures in the album’s simple but profound final promise, “soon you’ll find that same old feeling / and you had it all along.”
‘Strange Time’ is a prophetically honest account of lockdown that channels Bill Callahan in its delivery and tinges of Leonard Cohen in its observations to create a concoction that’s quaintly MF Tomlinson.
Words: Jamie Wilde
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