Model Warships Merchant [Beat Is Murder, 2009] - download the whole album for free!
Merchant is the debut album from Model Warships, the nom-de-plume of Leeds musician Michael Waters. The album's nine tracks are graced with a lo-fi bedroom quality which frequently turns the writhing mass of instruments into a mess of static and hiss. The songs are all works of catharsis – a floor covered in shards of broken glass, with Waters' voice trying to make tentative steps across, never quite realising that it can't get all the way through without screaming. It makes for uncomfortable listening, be it for the dense murk of the production - see the near instrumental "I Will Drag", which makes "Treefingers" sound like a kids TV theme tune, and "Damned Actors"'s descent into indistinguishable squalling madness – or the tortured howl into which Waters' vocals frequently descend, even when singing a League of Gentlemen punchline as blackly comic as "When you step off the edge, you'll look down like that fucker from Roadrunner."
The songs themselves are as strong as they are complex. "Good Actors" is as close as Merchant comes to a moment of serenity, or (whisper it) a pop song; built on a spiralling guitar line, and gilded with some delicate piano and synth strings, it comes on like Xiu Xiu covering Idlewild on broken equipment. Meanwhile, closing track "Bad Wolves" is a haunted duet with another Leeds musician, Natalie Guest; the pair trade resignedly dramatic lines ("I am tired all the time/Can you leave me be?") over a hypnotic mix of Philip Glass-style arpeggios and dark folky strums. The highlight is "Muddy Flow", in which Waters' disembodied vocal floats over a lush river of softly strummed guitars and what sounds like a guitar made of a tissue box and elastic bands, like some kind of Pitchfork-approved Ophelia.
Merchant can be an intense proposition to absorb in one sitting – it really does sound like Waters is losing his marbles, one note at a time – but that's a relatively minor complaint about an otherwise striking debut. If you’re actually enjoying being cooped up inside during this run of rainy summer days, this might just be the perfect soundtrack.