Murder & Parliament is a project by Tom Slatter, a Bad Elephant Music artist. The eponymous debut album has been out for a little while now and there have already been reviews. I was busy doing things. And stuff. Consequently, I didn’t have time to write a review or even listen to the album before the release. The Progressive Aspect, nevertheless, would be remiss should we fail to cover music that we feel would benefit from reaching your ears, and this is no exception.
Some of the tracks lead me to consider it very much as a Tom Slatter album, and this left me with many questions. I wondered why Tom felt he needed a fresh identity for the performance of these songs as Murder & Parliament.
Unlike Tom’s solo albums, this one feels very much like a raw band performance (Grey Malkin). At other points noises that don’t appear musical set the scene, like sound effects in a movie, giving some tracks a mood-provoking, experimental and ambient feel, and for this reason my stand-out track, also the most unlike his other solo work, is Embers.
Now I am concerned that I would like to have regarded this album as the product of a band in its own right. I could only speculate as to whether that was Tom’s intention. I thought about asking him. So, I did:
Hi Tom, hope your day is going well. The Murder & Parliament album. I’m doing a late review of it. Would you mind answering a question for me? If so the question is this: Would you prefer the M&P album to be viewed as the product of a band that you just happen to be in – or is it definitely a Tom Slatter project? I know it is your stuff and that some of it is from ages back, but this has a band feel about it.
Tom Slatter: I regard it as a different project – hence the different name. I’d originally toyed with the idea of keeping it completely anonymous but in the end didn’t go that far as it would require more time than I have available to promote it separately.
[Tom, mistaking me for someone who sympathises with his rock star existence, then reveals just how difficult it is for him working in such a difficult dynamic as that forced upon him by the man running his record label and I continue, impertinently, to ask him more questions, having hoodwinked him into believing that there would be only one:]
I suspected as much.
TS: Please also mention the threats I received from David (Elliot, AKA David Elephant, CEO of Bad Elephant Music) to make sure the CD recouped.
No. Fight your own battles.
I bloody love Embers.
TS: That’s got a lot of positive feedback. It was very much improv…
[Tom sends me the score of Embers using the Interwebs]
Fascinating! So, there was direction then, not just wing it and record it!
TS: I gave that to Alun (Vaughan – bass) and Chrissie (Caulfield – violin), did myself then arranged the results.
Were you in the same room or was this an internet collaboration?
TS: I have never met them in real life. They may not exist.
[I pause to wonder whether I exist. Tom does the same. We resume]
Wow! How long ago did you have the M&D thing in “the can” (whatever that means)?
TS: Recording finished late last summer. Composing – It’s old, old pieces but I had the shape of the album maybe three years ago.
A long project, then. Do you have time for this? I’m not keeping you from anything important, am I? I will probably weave it into the review.
TS: I am just about to go get some lunch. I certainly do have time to talk about myself.
TS: I put out CDs with my name and face on. Who would ever doubt the size and breadth of my ego?
I certainly never did. There’s no rush if you want to get some grub.
TS: Carry on asking questions if you have any. If I don’t answer it is cos I got distra- oooh look, a squirrel!
Where? I bloody LOVE squirrels!!!!
There is definitely some familiarity in some of the more guitar-oriented riffs and phrases. I can hear things that are part of your “musical vocabulary” like intervals between notes that crop up periodically, like at the end of Crookedness. What makes one song a Tom Slatter song but another a Murder And Parliament song?
TS: A lack of words?
HAHAHAHAH! Really? That’s it? You make me chuckle, Mr. Slatter.
TS: No, the working method is different. M & P almost all began life as written scores.
Oh, working method. So you can hear the stuff and you write it down?! Like Beethoven only not deaf and dead?!
TS: It’s trying to (write) stuff like the part writing on Firecracker – all those weaving lines have to be written down. I use Sibelius, so you hear it as it goes sorta thing. Like MIDI in a DAW but the interface is the score.
I’ll have to ignore the MIDI reference because for some reason I have a mental block… perhaps because I’ve never had to get to grips with it. I dare say if you hear synths on anything I’ve done it will be sequenced or even played live and recorded direct from the synth. There does seem to be more arrangement in your songs. By that I mean distinct parts that are segued together. Is that a fair observation?
TS: Maybe, but I think all my work is Frankensteined together out of disparate song ideas.
Frankensteined. I like that.
TS: I do deliberately try to write stuff that couldn’t be done with loops and that always has a clear melody. Lots of stuff is loop based, e.g. TFATD [The Fierce And The Dead]. I love them so that’s not a value judgement, just something I think I can do well and that I enjoy.
Some of your stuff does have unconventional patterns of groups of notes and beats to the bar. I’m sort of between two camps as to whether I can whistle along to some of it. I like to get in a 5/4 groove or 7/8 but when you mix them up it can be a bit jarring. Do you ever wonder whether your stuff is putting people off because it might be hard to follow for people who think in 4/4? Did that make sense?
[Silence. I await a response, but Tom stays silent for about the time it would take to stir fry some salmon and vegetables and then eat them. My paranoia begins to surface. Did I say something wrong? I try again…]
BTW, I like that you have Tabs as well as conventional music in your score. I can work from Tabs – well, I’m learning. But they are a bit hard to follow for Stick!
[Obviously, I have gone off-piste a little here. After all, the only questions you people want answered are the ones about lunch and star signs. Nevertheless, someone might want to know other things, so I continued to harass Mr. Slatter…]
I get the sense that the main person you do this all for is Tom Slatter and that if other people like it then that’s a bonus.
TS: I’m not expecting mass market appeal, so no I don’t care if others get it. However, I think there is an audience for this sort of stuff. So do I do it just for me? Well it is art so yes. Do I want others to hear and enjoy it? Yes, but I reckon the people who like this sort of stuff would hate it if I did anything other than follow my muse.
Thanks, Tom! I think I have enough to go on to cobble one or two bollocks together now. Is there any other insight you want to share exclusively to The Progressive Aspect via me?
TS: The CD run has pretty much recouped. We didn’t lose money. If I were capable of being earnest I would say this is humbling. But I’m not. So, I will instead say this is only right and proper.
That’s excellent. I had a toasted ham and cheese sandwich on seeded bread for lunch. What did you have?
TS: Salmon and stir fry veg.
[I BLOODY KNEW IT!]
What star sign are you?
I did have other questions, like why are these instrumental tracks collected together here and not simply distributed amongst his back catalogue? But Tom answered this by default in that he feels these tracks were created using a different methodology to those of his solo works.
A question for you, or perhaps from you, dearest reader, might be: Is Murder & Parliament sufficiently distinct, musically, from his work as Tom Slatter? I can only answer that in many places it is, although that Tom’s DNA runs through it is undeniable. There are, however, other tracks that fit into an Alterslatterverse. It is these tracks that are, for me, the album’s saving grace. Even as Tom’s song-writing style is individualistic and there are common elements in his musical vocabulary, most of Murder & Parliament is to Tom Slatter as Sugar is to Hüsker Dü.
Despite preferring the stuff on this album that at least reminded me of Mr. Slatter’s solo stuff I do like Tom’s solo albums, as testified to in my reviews published on The Progressive Aspect’s interweb site of Happy People and Fit The Fourth. Some of this Murder & Parliament music takes an altogether new and exciting direction and I want to hear more in the same vein from Tom, in his new alternative incarnation. As this review/interview (or inter-review?) follows numerous others, then perhaps recommendation is somewhat moot, though recommendation this is. Diverse and entertaining, why not put Murder & Parliament in the black on the Bad Elephant sales ledger.
Thanks for reading.
01. A Scattering (8:28)
02. Crookedness (4:52)
03. Grey Malkin (4:50)
04. Kettle and Cauldron (3:05)
05. Firecracker (5:02)
06. Embers (6:43)
07. Clamour (4:53)
08. They Broadcast My Birthday On A Numbers Station (5:29)
Total Time – 43:22
Tom Slatter – All Instruments
Chrissie Caulfield – Violin
Alun Vaughan – Bass
Record Label: Bad Elephant Music
Country of Origin: U.K.
Date of Release: 1st December 2017