Moulettes – Constellations

Formed 12 years ago it took The Moulettes a while to really get going, releasing their debut album on the Southampton based musical co-operative Sotones in 2010. Since then they have based themselves in Brighton, toured with the likes of The Levellers, headlined their own tours, released the acclaimed second album The Bear's Revenge, and become a regular fixture on the festival circuit.
'Constellations' is their third album and their first for the excellent nu and alt-folk label, Navigator and is bound to propel them on their upward trajectory, with another busy summer of touring planned. At the same time they are very much an independent band, self-managed, and even self-produced (with co-producer credit going to Joe Gibbs, who was also responsible for their previous album).
Fronted by the singing, cello playing and wonderfully vivid storytelling of Hannah Miller, The Moulettes are a unique amalgamation of instruments and voices, featuring the rather rare bassoon amongst its ranks, the fluid and inventive double bass of Jim Mortimore as well as the dual guitar and drumming of Oliver Austin, a device that was taken to the mainstream by Marcus Mumford, whose band features Ted Dwayne, the original double bassist with The Moulettes.
Guest musicians also abound, including Nick Pynn, Emma Gatrill, Marcus Hamblett, Mike Simmonds and Dan Smith of The Noisettes, almost all of whom are or have been regular features of the Brighton music scene.
Whereas many of their previous recordings featured several songs within a song – The Moulettes flying off on tangents here and there – they are now tighter and more economical. The songs are generally structured in such a way that waste is almost non-existent, although such is Miller's extremely lively songwriting style, 'Constellations' still sounds like there are at least 30-40 songs embedded within the nominally listed 10 tracks. Working the studio is a craft that often takes time, the live arena usually empowering and allowing bands such as the Moulettes to be let off the leash, feeding off an audience hungry to dance and devour. On record, it's usually more fruitful to rein things in a little, and to concentrate on the songs structures and flow, keeping repetition and indulgence to a minimum. With the rhythm section anchoring the often choppy melodies, 'Constellations' does this brilliantly.
Moreover, their unique melange of sounds have been captured perfectly on record, reflecting their often wild and lively stage shows.
The overwhelming optimistic sentiments and rocking energy of the opening track 'Glorious Year' sets the tone for this roller coaster of a ride, while 'Lady Vengeance' features the vocals of both Arthur Brown (age 72) and Band of Skull's Emma Richardson (nearly a third of his age). Here, plucked strings meets a deep and groovy bassoon and double bass melody line before segueing into a dreamy interlude, whereupon Brown's slightly mangled baritone cuts through sparkling strings, a cowbell, and all sorts of weird and wonderful instrumentation.
The theatrical and aptly entitled 'The Night Is Young' could easily be placed within a West End or cabaret production, while 'So It Goes' is an extraordinarily bouncy number, double bass propelling the chorus to new heights of accessibility and danceability. The penultimate track 'The Observatory' harks back to the mind-boggling sophistication of 'The Bears Revenge', at its heart is a swirling whirlwind of strings and vocals with a bass driven instrumental passage, but several songs within a song can be discerned, all of whom deftly segue and flow into one another.
'Other guest singers on the album include old mate Blaine Harrison of The Mystery Jets, veteran bass player and Ditchling resident Herbie Flowers playing his distinctive bass on the melancholy 'Land of the Midnight Sun', local singer Faye Houston on 'Keep It As A Memory' and Northern lasses The Unthanks on the noir-folk 'Elegy'.
The Moulettes thoroughly enjoy bringing in players of all genres and ages, looking to amalgamate jazz, pop, folk and progressive rock, as well as classical music and even hints of dubstep and modern dance. On the surface it could be a recipe for disaster, but in their hands the soaring, spacious, rhythmic and dynamic sound is a brilliant statement of what is possible.
Jeff Hemmings
Out 2 June