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August Wells: Madness Is The Mercy


August Wells is a duo, the Dublin vocalist and songwriter Ken Griffin and John Rauchenberger, a New York pianist. They’re one of those bands with cult superstardom written over them, thanks to the sumptuous arrangements and Griffin’s distinctive voice (baritone?).

Griffin is of Irish bands Rollerskate Skinny and Favourite Sons, the former apparently being popular in Ireland.

The sound overall is like The Magnetic Fields and its own distinctive singer, Stephin Merritt, known for his bass voice, clever lyrics and always dressing in brown. Comparisons could also be made with Nick Cave and Richard Hawley.

Opener Here In The Wild is a Hawley-like slow, rich number with Rauchenberger’s piano enlarged by sax, strings and flute. Come on in out of That Night is more Magnetic Fields; both songs are about the margins of life, the latter about living in the dark and looking enviously at people living in the light (it’s a lot cheerier than it sounds).

Katy Call Home is one of the early standouts, a distinctive pop tune that’s almost Van Morrison in instrumentation, and while its narrator is waiting for Katy, the man in This Man Cries is missing his son: “I don’t mind waking up on the kitchen floor/Men like me, think that’s what the kitchen floor is for/Monday morning hits me like a hammer from the back of my soul” — as indeed do Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday…

We liked the mournful Keep My Matches Dry, clearly about The Donald: “The people’s billionaire/Glues back on his golden hair”. The vocals are accompanied by gentle strummed electric guitar, then flute, then sax. The narrator is a normal guy with “no get rich quick ideas, no clever plans, no mapped path and no family money”.

Musically sparse — mainly guitar, flute, brass and drums — it’s all down Griffin’s singing and lyrics. If you like the voice, we suspect you’ll love it.

Buy it here:

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