If Enderby's Room make Belle and Sebastian sound like Henry Rollins that may not be entirely a bad thing. Centred round the vocal, guitar, fiddle and song-writing of one Dan Mayfield, with principal assistance from Emma Winston on vocals, harmonium and piano, Enderby's room paint a rather austere parlour vision of the present, with assistance from Nathon Thomas on French horn, Donal Sweeney on double bass and percussion from James Humphries. Whilst their press indicates a ten-year history for the band, based in London, it's not clear whether this is their first release.
The single “Lakeside” which opens proceedings is very typical of the whole set: gently plucked steel strung guitar, with softly sung, almost whispered vocals, in RP English, Winston harmonising round Mayfield, giving way to violin. “We walked slowly down a willowy pathway, listening to the sounds that the leaves make as they rustle beneath our feet” they sing, and then “I wish every day would be like this...” The sound of a beautiful depression.
“The Music” is an elegant paean to music: second-hand records, cassettes, banjo and dulcimer, which is carried forward very effectively by Winston's harmonium, swelling and ebbing over snare drum. “David the Gnome”, an instrumental gradually introduces electric piano, then glockenspiel, then banjo in a short but sweet cycle, before “Birds” gives Winston prime vocal spot. There may be a limit to how far “gentle” can be taken, and this could be it. “They're preparing to leave these lands, and head somewhere warmer, far from our crystal winter”, she sings in immaculate tones, before backing vocals chime in with “some fly east, some fly west, some fly over the cuckoo's nest”. And that's it. It verges on bathos, but in the context of the album, just about gets away with it. “Grey Stones”, returns to the primary harmonic structure, Mayfield and Winston, singing about “falling leaves on grey stones”, and all manner of rhymed phrases over simple, plucked guitar, until the song almost becomes a spell, an incantation of natural forces, uttered as gently as can be.
It's ironic that Enderby's Room get their name from Anthony Burgess's rather scatological character, as there is little of the jakes, or indeed cacophony about this album. “Mr Enderby” features Nathon Thomas on French horn, harmonium from Winston and a wry little tune on Mayfield's nylon strung guitar. Nothing could be further from the thunderous bathroom noises of Burgess's novels. “Heartaches” is perhaps the most Belle and Sebastianish of the tracks, and is almost jaunty, with bass and drums underpinning the vocals and (yet more) French horn, and “Mannequins” mixes a Simon and Garfunkel-like tale of city haberdashery over banjo. “Tiptoe” is sinisterly lovely – parents leave a child to dream, but turning to warning “don't close your eyes 'cause you might just be scared of what you'll find in your mind”, harmonium, nylon strings and glockenspiel mingle, fading on “we'll go tiptoe, silently away”. It might have been a great way to finish the album, but “I'll Find You” repeats the trick to some extent - “from the cradle to the grave, I will find you here” they warn, and they just might.
Enderby's Room will appeal to fans of Low, Belle and Sebastian, Nick Drake and Virginia Astley, but probably not to those of Henry Rollins! Melancholy, slightly ominous, certainly not to be left on in the nursery.
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