Inventively named Canadian act The Harpoonist & The Axe Murderer recently visited the UK to play a few shows. The name instantly gets your attention “The who’d a what now” was one version of the name I heard recently. It actually all makes perfect sense as Shawn Hall aka The Harpoonist plays harmonica (actually lots of harmonicas) and Matthew Rogers plays guitar hence The Axe Murderer. The guys were in London to support their latest release ‘Apocalipstick’ and played one of the most inventive and crowd-pleasing shows I’ve seen in quite some time. The duo, with Dawn Pemberton adding some impressively soulful vocals, really is a force of nature in a live setting. Explaining what they do doesn’t seem to do them any justice but I’ll give it a try.
The Harpoonist begins seated on a stool armed with a bag of harmonicas, multiple microphones and various effects devices, which he constantly twiddles with, while stomping on foot pedal percussion. His vocals alternate from smooth and soulful to a guttural howl, reminiscent of another great Canadian band The Crooked Brothers. He really can’t keep still and it’s a joy to watch. Seated next to him, behind a small drum kit, is The Axe Murderer who adds guitar, backing vocals and plays drums, usually all at the same time. The Head stock of his Telecaster is used for cymbal hits and no I’m not making this up. Armed with a host of cool tunes that run the gamut from soulful to hard edged blues the duo are one-of-a-kind and not to be missed if they come to your town.
With all this in mind I wondered how the live performance would translate for home listening. There is just so much going on in their live show I was hesitant as to how it might work on the office stereo. I needn’t have worried as ‘Apocalipstick’ finds the duo expanding their musical palette while staying true to their roots. Opener ‘Get Ready’ is dense, fuzzy and built on an infectious hook and wonderfully soulful backing vocals from a cast of thousands (seven vocalists are credited on the sleeve including the aforementioned Dawn Pemberton). The band likes to lay down a groove and go with it and for ‘Apocalipstick’ they’ve added John Raham (The Be Good Tanyas) and keys man Geoff Hilhorst (The Deep Dark Woods) to broaden their live sound. Raham co-produced the record along with the duo and the result is an album that features a nice thick sound with loads of bottom end. This production style enhances and accentuates the delights of album highlight ‘Forever Fool’ with Hilhorst’s organ fills and Raham’s rock steady drum track the bedrock for Matthew Rogers to add guitar crunch and jangle in equal measure. Those spacey organ fills are a feature of ‘I’m Back’ where they are the perfect counterpoint to Hall’s bluesy harmonica blasts.
The duo are equally happy with the strident bluesy rock n’ roll of ‘Pretty Please’ as they are stripping things back to acoustic guitar, vocal and a little harmonica for ‘Treat Me Right’ while ‘Running’ again benefits from the addition of organ and those backing vocals. ‘Marianne (20,000 Acres of Moonlight)’ has a playful groove reminiscent of the glam rock stylings of Marc Bolan and T-Rex which is unexpected but very cool. The album concludes with a short piano piece, complete with Satchmo inspired vocal, entitled ‘Situate Yourself’ before an epic ‘Fragile’ brings all the elements of the album together for a rousing finale.
The Harpoonist & The Axe Murderer are a little different and a little bit special. To get the very best of them buy this album and then check out a show. Satisfaction guaranteed on both counts.