JJ Bull – Ou Sont Les Elephants – Album Review

As FnS is getting busier we’ve been considering doing album and single reviews, mainly for local artists wanting a bit of feedback, a little bit of publicity as well perhaps. Now I have a wee personal issue with reviews, as its only the opinion of the reviewer, nothing more. So, how do we get over this strange annoyance? Well, we’ll have (at least) two reviewers cover each one we attempt, see how it goes. Maybe I’m just overengineering a simple feat but hey, such is life these days. SB.

So, opening ceremony over…  here’s our first album review on FnS…

JJ Bull – Ou Sont Les Elephants

JJ Bull - Ou Sont Les Elephants

Heres what Godzilla Blues made of it…

First solo effort from a chap who used to be in local band 10 Easy Wishes. I’m sure I saw them in Drummonds once, and while I didn’t dislike them, their style wasn’t really my thing – I wouldn’t leave a venue they were playing in, but at the same time I wouldn’t go out and buy a record. With this in mind, I wasn’t really going to investigate this solo effort, however, I was asked to review an album by the FnS head honcho, agreed and up this popped via e-mail for download. I’m glad it did as it happens, because it’s very good and not at all what I expected. I was anticipating yer typical singer-songwriter acoustic-type stuff. Which is OK if done well, but isn’t a style that I sit and listen to a lot, I find a whole album of it can drag a bit.

There are a couple of songs in this vein on this album but a fair selection of instruments are utilised – piano, harmonica, xylophone (or glockenspiel? perhaps both…) and synthesised bleeps are used to good effect giving a nice sense of variation throughout the 11 songs.

The acoustic guitar/drum machine sound at times recalls Arab Strap and indeed Malcolm Middleton’s solo work could be cited as a comparison but there is a breadth of styles going on here that makes it difficult to pin the album down to any particular genre. The overall approach is quite stripped down – I’m loathe to use the term ‘lo-fi’ as that can bring to mind poorly recorded acts such as Times New Viking – but at the same time there is a clever use of layering going on to keep things interesting. At times I’m reminded of Ed Harcourt circa first album ‘Here be Monsters’. There are also shades of Jim White’s ‘Wrong-Eyed Jesus’ at times and some of the perkier numbers could have sat on Badly Drawn Boy’s early albums. At all times the Scottish accent is in evidence, which I like, but it never feels forced or overdone which can sometimes be the case with bands like The Twilight Sad.

A couple of tracks have a cracked vocal style that brings to mind Chris Martin and actually would have sounded quite at home on ‘Parachutes’. That’s OK, Coldplay used to be quite good really, before they decided to try and start being U2. Trouble was that they seemed to try and be U2 when U2 weren’t being very good.

‘Don’t Paint’ begins with a simple piano and multitracked vocal, builds slowly with a simple bass drum pattern and finally ends with a swelling musical arrangement and angelic vocal refrain that recalls Sigur Ros or Mercury Rev. I listened to this song about 5 times in a row, it’s great.

Part of me thinks the nuances of the album will be hard to replicate but hopefully I shall find time to get along to one of his live shows to see how the songs translate to a live setting.

JJ has apparently spent about a year and a half crafting this self-released album and I think this shows – none of the songs outstay their welcome and the recording sounds as though it has been lovingly put together and fine tuned. As a complete piece of work by a local artist this stands head and shoulders above anything else I’ve heard in recent times both in terms of song quality and the recording standard – in fact I’m not sure if I’ve ever heard a local album up to this standard.

For a self-release I find this a pretty admirable achievement and so award it –  5/5.     Godzilla Blues

And the opinion of JustBoy57

So what do we know about JJ Bull? Well he used to be in Aberdeen band 10 Easy Wishes, which some of the Flares n Seagulls readers will be more than aware of after a busy couple of years gigging in and around Aberdeen. He is also the lead singer of a credible covers band aptly named The Sellouts. But now, JJ Bull has staked his claim as one of Aberdeen’s finest acoustic troubadours and his debut album, released on brand spanking new Aberdeen label Bedford Records, echoes this claim much more than my words here could ever do.

JJ’s debut album, “Ou Sont Les Elephants”, has been a year and a half in the making and is a journey from start to finish; you know songs about love and stuff, but credibly done in his own unique style. The album is lo-fi folky acousticy goodness. Listening to the album first time round, influences I would suspect are bands like Frightened Rabbit, Paul Simon, The Shins and perhaps some Death Cab thrown in there for good measure. It’s a collective mix, but with a voice that is unique and a great ear for harmonies, JJ creates something that is quite hard to pin down to one genre. This is of course a good thing.

Album opener, “Grandstand”, basically made my mind up about this album. The fact that I couldn’t get past it and played it about seven times before I moved on to track number two shows how strong a debut this is, with beautiful layered guitars and an impressive vocal to boot. Other stand out tracks include, “Capital City”, which builds and builds until it explodes in the best way possible, with strings, drums and harmonies giving this song the finale that it so deserved. But it was track, “Tommy”, that really cemented this album into my list of favourite releases so far this year. Maybe it was the fact that I currently have a friend who’s Dad by the same name is going through a bit of a tough time with illness but I actually found myself with a wee bit of a lump in my throat when I first listened to this track. It’s a sad song, with an underlying theme of hope and a resounding feeling that everything is going to be just fine. It’s great and surely has next single release written all over it.

I’ve seen JJ live a few times and if I’m being honest I probably never gave him my full attention that this album makes me undoubtedly think he deserves. It makes you sit up and take notice of this talented singer songwriter who is quietly making waves in the Aberdeen music scene. With an enthusiasm for people to hear his music and with the songs and voice to carry him through, who knows what the future holds. JJ Bull has landed and I personally think it’s great.      JustBoy57

JJ Bull and the Dinosaurs play Café Drummonds 2nd April 2010. Doors 8pm.

JJ Bull MySpace

And there it is… why not leave your own opinion in the comments form below?  🙂

4 Responses to JJ Bull – Ou Sont Les Elephants – Album Review

  1. myke black says:

    My favourite Album right now! Just want to point out a little error made by “justboy57”. This was recorded with Bedford records but JJ decided not to release it under their name. Self-released!!!! well done JJ Bull.

  2. To agree with Myke, talented musician himself as I witnessed at Drummonds, this has got to be one of my favourite albums right now, and I can’t the caliber of JJ’s nack for ‘effin catchy and good tunes.

    When I first listened to a few of his songs, I couldn’t believe the sound of the quality. There are few local bands and artists that I physically would want to go buy their album, but I have done just that.

    I have seen JJ perform before, but Drummonds was the first gig with the rest of the guys, and I wasn’t shocked that they managed to create the same atmosphere as the album….but I was shocked at just how well they did it.

    Go buy ‘Ou sont….’ it’s amazin

  3. Rich Brady says:

    You can definitely hear an element of Chris Martin on “Don’t Paint”, I also agree that it’s difficult to tie one particular genre to the album.

    While I can’t take away the guys talent, don’t get me wrong, it’s a good album but not one I’d tell my mates “You must own this”.

    “121 Miles” stood out for me however and in my opinion would have been a better opener to the ablum.

    I look forward to seeing how this guy develops! Thanks for the heads up fns

  4. Iain says:

    Happy to say that JJ will be releasing some music on Bedford Records this summer 🙂

    Iain Bedford

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