‘Diamonds in the Rafters' by Chasing DeerReview
As promised in yesterday's broad sweep review of 2023's Godiva Festival, here is more detailed focus on the new Chasing Deer album ‘Diamonds in the Rafters' whose tracks dominated their set there. That I'm writing it on band mainman Rob Hodkinson's birthday though seems very appropriate: almost a reciprocal gift to match the album copy he gave me….
As with many other artists who decide to put out traditional albums these days, Rob has already shared half a dozen of the tracks as singles ("Orchards", "Always Been You", "Scared", "Now", "On Standby" and "Bad Decisions") and since we have reviewed them for you, I hope you remember our thoughts on them. The days of the "stand alone" single model & albums without singles, which worked so well for bands from The Beatles down, are long gone: financially it just doesn't work any more & as a reviewer, I think it's a good move, enabling each song to get equal focus & pretty much abolishing the concept of the "filler track". To be honest, I was wondering if the full album was now extinct as a format with the re-emergence of the long dormant EP replacing it, but ‘Diamonds in the Rafters' is one prime example of how life can be re-injected into the model with imagination.
I think I started reviewing Chasing Deer around 2018 with the album 'Hands On'. Their melodic sensibilities were already in place by then, as was a sense of seeing bigger pictures: an album built around compassion & empathy. ‘Diamonds in the Rafters' shows how far they've come in the intervening half decade (well Rob, as the sole constant member): as well as building a very substantial fanbase and playing both a lot and to prestige audiences of sizes from the intimate to the huge, the songs have evolved too.
The new album has an astonishing range of moods and themes & has the distinct feel of a set written over many months: presumably during lockdown, with shifts in moods reflecting those of a frustrated musician… albeit one who kept himself busy & visible with weekly livestreams. This impression is wholly false as the set was composed as a collection over an intense, short period in a songwriting retreat in Margate: thus raising the issue of how impressive it is that he covered so much ground. Writing variously with Ollie Hayes, Nick Bradley and Paul Whalley (performances are courtesy of Rob, Ollie, Rory Evans, Harry Batsford and Josh Rigal and production by Ollie, Paul, Natt Webb, Johan Thelin and John Mitchell at Outhouse Studios, Ratcat Studios, Tileyard Studios and Pitchfork Studios), as you know, album opener (and first single released from the album) "On Standby" is the one explicit response to lockdown & remains a very effective description of the plight of the musician, many months later.
The other songs though cover a range far outside COVID19 (thankfully!). Of the ones not released previously, the one which will leap out at Chasing Deer fans is probably "You're Boring" as it shopwindows a Rob I have no recollection of ever hearing before: having a go at people! I have no quibbles with his targets and neither did the Godiva Festival audience he played it for: honest, tuneful and witty, it really does show a new side of Chasing Deer: and that's no bad thing: bands need to develop and diversify. The (good) humour is emphasised to take the sting out of the sentiments but he means what he says: a sort of less sweary Lily Allen song…
Closer "Regent Street" also featured in the Godiva set & since I suggested to Rob that it had potential as a single, you can assume how highly I rated it from my first hearing.
I've always loved those psychogeographical songs which fuse emotion with place and this one sits with examples from London such as Donovan's "Sunny Goodge Street", The Bevis Frond's "South Hampstead Rain" or the many places mentioned in Elvis Costello's "London's Brilliant Parade" in my mind. Like them, it's a truly beautiful evocation of place & emotion, combining the two into something even greater than the parts: your eyes may well up on hearing it. It reeks of "classic" and Rob's initial wariness of including it on the album (too strong emotionally?) thankfully was overcome.
It's not the only track he apparently pondered over and again I'm pleased he decided on putting "Connection" in: very different to "Regent Street" in sound, replacing the acoustic balladry with a more frantic funky keyboard led breathless celebration of interaction (so I think we can join the dots here with a response to lockdown). Again we have wit in the lyrics, but also another example of Rob's range of vocal styles. Always a fine singer with a great range of effective pitches, on the album he is pushing himself into different styles much more than before: and to very good effect.
Of the other songs not already on your radar, the title track has yet another vocal approach and a much fuller arrangement, being closer to a "band" performance (I loved the bassline) and with a very African feel to the rhythm (I can't help wondering, given the title as well if it's not some sort of Paul Simon tribute) yet is the only song I can bring to mind to cite the M40…. He really does fuse the personal with the global on this feel good track.
"Copycat" is closer to "classic Chasing Deer" in sound (though I felt the backing vocals were an interesting & successful innovation) but lyrically sits more with the "tougher" new approach as per "You're Boring" and "Bad Decisions"
The stately "Enough" is again nearer the sound we've come to expect from the band with Rob providing his "big" voice as so evidenced on so many Chasing Deer anthemic tracks & with a similar large focus theme: this'll be the one to get the light-emitting artefacts being waved at gigs I suspect.
The standard as well as the diversity of material on the album is sky high & that cannot be over-emphasised: let's not forget that songs like "Orchards", while reviewed separately in this magazine are amongst the best Rob's created. If he was having to make decisions over what to include, there presumably are unreleased tracks which did not make the cut from the same outstanding burst of creativity.
‘Hands On' was excellent, but ‘Diamonds in the Rafters' is even better: not only is there more internal variety within this album, but the lyrical intensity has sharpened: Rob has moved on from the generalised benevolence of five years ago into more personal & specific narratives with a more caustic view of what needs fixing in the world to combine with his pre-existing optimism that humanity can help itself.
He works very hard & deserves success: but graft alone is not enough in the creative arts: you need originality (or in my opinion you should do) and that's present & correct too in ‘Diamonds in the Rafters'. Now he just needs luck & the word to get out there to enough people.