Compulsion | PO Box 19577 | Kilbarchan |Johnstone | PA10 2WX | Scotland | UK

Naevus - Curses

From tolling bells, acoustic strum sprinkled with breezy folk guitar stylings, lilting accordion and violin score creates the sumptuous backing for 'The Wall In The Sun' which sets the scene for Lloyd James' gentle morose tone. It's a wonderful dark-folk entry to Curses, the eight studio album from Naevus. Their last album, The Division of Labour, was largely a solo effort from Lloyd James. Since then Naevus have expanded again into a group, with Ben McLees (This is Radio Silence, SonVer) joining mainstay Lloyd James as a co-songwriter. Curses is the first fruit from this new iteration of Naevus. And it marks another step forward for the group, capturing a sense of accessibility while expressing the experimental and atmospheric tendencies within their (post) punk influenced dark folk sound - did I mention that Lloyd James is currently moonlighting as singer in the revised formation of seventies agit-punk group Crisis. Naevus often find themselves bracketed as part of the neo-folk genre with whom it is true they share friends and associations. Neo-folk is undoubtedly part of the Naevus story, as Lloyd James' numerous guest spots will testify to, but besides a core sound characterised by deep vocal tones and acoustic guitars you'll not find anything mythical or magickal or songs mythologising Europe here. Lyrically Naevus are much more personal, introspective and abstract and musically with each album they've expanded the core acoustic sound with forays into punk, post-punk, while branching out more and more into experimental and shoegaze territory. Death In June and Swans were recurring touchstones for their early work but their more angular moments have elicited comparisons - from me, at least - to Wire and Magazine. By now Naevus should be much more popular. Hell, we've been banging on about them for years. And if you wonder why, just listen to 'Dead Man Circling'. Revolving around a lilting sound, where clipped guitar and big keyboard swirl are anchored around a loping bassline, as Lloyd James improvises a one-take lyric about someone's last moments cleverly weaving car instruments and driving manoeuvres into the narrative. Lyrically and musically this is genius and an instant Naevus classic. There's no slamming of brakes on the following track either.

'Abacus', which initially featured in a radically different form on a Der Blutharsch and the Infinite Church of the Leading Hand album, is pretty good too with its quick strum, rapid drum rolls and choppy piano keys before it opens up into sprawling widescreen guitar offset by clipped chords. In that restful, restless tone he delivers so well, Lloyd James lays down cryptic words bookended by the lyric "the world does not add up" repeatedly repeated at the end.

It's not as if Naevus have discarded the acoustic sound of earlier releases. Curses is peppered with acoustic songs, embellished by the larger group. This time around though they're largely confined to the more introspective tracks, such as 'Heart Fell Foul' and 'The Pit'. 'Heart Fell Foul' is another track that has appeared elsewhere in a different form. Originally a collaboration with Harmony Garden, this version is stripped back to an acoustic ballad augmented by tremeloed guitar and Alla Sol's feminine backing. It still surprises with a personal lyric that veers from shoelaces to Carlos Castaneda. 'The Pit' seems to recall an old relationship, maybe a former lover or an old friend, is another acoustic balled enhanced by the band's arrangements. These acoustic numbers evoke some of Naevus' earlier work but rather than basking in acoustic strum the sound is now elevated with atmospheric flourishes, courtesy of Ben McLees' stunning and soaring guitar work.

'Odour' which builds on the acoustic songs catches Naevus in a sprightly mood with a piece of shimmering acoustic pop, at odds with a lyric that threatens to burn your house down. "But you won't last forever, You won't last" sings the mass of voices on a breezy chorus replete with incongruous handclaps.

The progression of Naevus can be heard on the rollicking - and that's a description I don't usually use when reviewing Naevus - 'Aria/Acqua'. Originally appearing on the Backsaddling EP single, this version is much more direct and powerful, veering between rocking passages that appear to co-opt the spidery guitars of the B-52's, settling into passages of voice and forceful strum before swelling again with a muscular, punk-fuelled intent. Much more spacious is the title track, with heavy lumbering Birthday Party-esque bass tones as a backdrop to Lloyd James' oblique spoken word. Even here though the space between vocal passages is filled with soaring guitar, kazoo and various percussive devices and household appliances. The voice is poised and pensive and cast against the deftly executed backdrop the title track is tense and compelling.

Curses closes on the particularly evocative 'Surface' where Lloyd's clear voice is delivered over light guitar atmospherics. Almost assuming the melody of a pop song, it blossoms with each cycle adopting additional instrumentation and vocal layers almost ending up on a call and response type structure over warming synths, acoustic strum and violin. Quite beautiful and quietly effective it's a wonderful coda to the album, which rates as one of Naevus' finest.

Eight albums in Naevus still continue to surprise. Tracks as disparate as 'Dead Man Circling', 'Aria/Acqua', 'Surface' and the title track amply illustrate the progression of the Naevus sound. Not that Naevus were ever a difficult proposition but there's a new accessible and dynamic edge that complements their core acoustic sound perfectly. They remain abstract and obtuse, especially around Lloyd's idiosyncratic wordsmithery, but Curses represents a more nuanced and varied sound resulting in some of Naevus' finest work. On the strength of the material on Curses Naevus really deserve to gain recognition and escape the underground. Curses is currently released in an edition of 300 copies but is far deserving of more. For now those in the know will rejoice in this wonderful album, everyone else can play catch-up. Recommended. For more information go to Naevus at Bandcamp or Old Europa Cafe