Darren Hayman & The Long Parliament -The Violence Darren Hayman & The Long Parliament -The Violence

dhWhilst a concept album of folk songs based around 17th century witch hunts may not seem like the typical synopsis for a thoroughly listenable, engrossing record, those familiar with Essex songwriter Darren Hayman should not be surprised. Whether it has been with the John Peel-approved indie-rock outfit Hefner or as a solo artist, Hayman has built up an impressive body of work over the past 15 years. The concepts may have become increasingly obscure of late, (The Violence is the finale in a trilogy of albums based around Essex) but Hayman hasn’t lost his ear for a hook, and – most impressively of all – knows how to make an hour’s worth of songs about people dying and generally being miserable sound relatively optimistic.

This somewhat false sense of security is never more evident than on the infectious shuffle of “Impossible Times”, which does its best to make living in the grey, blood-soaked Essex of the 1600s sound like fun for the whole family. And whilst musically The Violence could hardly be described as a gloomy record, it’s the overarching sense of tension and fear (thanks to the subject matter) which threatens to make it an overwhelming listen. “Hide from the violence, the knives on the hill – pretend that you’re dead, lie perfectly still” Hayman warns on the title track. Things don’t get much better for the song’s poor old character, Elizabeth Clarke, either: “Who’s going to feed my dog? Who’s going to pray the rain away? Who’s going to pull on my ankles when I swing?”

It’s to his credit, then that Hayman includes so many interludes and twee-pop melodies on The Violence. Casual listeners may be put off by the obscure reference points and English history lessons, but everyone can get behind the pastoral folk of “Parliament Joan” or the Neil Young-inspired lament of “Vinegar Tom”. Stories and concepts which would otherwise be overly grim are easily digestible thanks to Hayman’s songwriting nous.

If the infamous Witchfinder General, Matthew Hopkins is the villain of The Violence, (you’d like to think he would be) then there’s little doubt whose side Hayman is concerned about articulating. On the majority of the tracks here, he sides with the underdogs and those affected by the politics and twisted culture of the time. If it all sounds a little like a musical history dissertation, then that’s because it is – this isn’t Mumford and Sons, and Hayman’s dedication to his concept is what makes The Violence quite fascinating. What’s more, the fact that Hayman has tackled such complex and heavy subject matter and translated it into an album that is rarely overbearing is a noteworthy achievement in itself. In short – probably the best concept album about 17th century witch hunts that you’re likely to hear all year.

The Violence Tracklist:
01. The Violence (04:13)
02. Impossible Times (03:20)
03. How Long Have You Been Frightened For? (04:45)
04. We Are Not Evil (03:05)
05. The She-Cavaliers (04:28)
06. Elizabeth Clarke (03:56)
07. Vinegar Tom (05:14)
08. Parliament Joan (04:51)
09. The Word and the Word Alone (04:09)
10. I Will Hide Away (03:30)
11. When the King Enjoys His Own Again (01:18)
12. Henrietta Maria (03:32)
13. A Dogge Called Boye (01:37)
14. Outsiders (01:18)
15. Arthur Wilson S Reverie (04:12)
16. Rebecca West (04:32)
17. Desire Lines (04:55)
18. Kill the King (04:49)
19. A Coffin for King Charles, a Crown for Cromwell and a Pit for the People (01:44)
20. The Laughing Tree (03:54)

Darren Hayman & The Long Parliament -The Violence, reviewed by Lemon on 2013-02-25T10:00:10-08:00 rating 3.6 out of 5

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