INTERVIEW: Mark James Hammond & The Slender Blind | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Returning almost four years to the day after NARC. labelled their dream pop-inspired debut album, Nothing Stays Put, as ‘classy and contemplative’, 2022 sees the Mark James Hammond and The Slender Blind return with a new album and an almost entirely new musical styling. Moving away from some of the more ambient moments of their debut, MJH&TSB’s new album, Cast Off, lands squarely inside the hard rock/metal genre – varying the atmosphere of their music whilst pushing the lush melodies of their debut into new and interesting places.

Yeah, it is different,” agrees Hammond when asked about the project’s new direction, “on initial listening I thought that if you stood the new album next to the first album it sounded very different and if anything, the first record was maybe more dream pop whereas this is the opposite.”

Heading towards the end of a five-year training course in psychotherapy, Hammond credits some of the shift in sound down to his experience in higher education, and its impact on his creativity. “The training has definitely taken my head to places that it didn’t go with the first album, and interestingly I wrote different pieces of this album during different parts of the course, so I think there’s a theme which I can hear. For me, different parts of the studying triggered different emotions, emotions which seemed to want to express themselves differently though mostly it came out as heavy guitar music and the sounds of some of the bands I listened to when I was younger, like Alice in Chains and the Deftones.”

There’s a lot of dissonance on the record and at times it has been painful stuff

Driven throughout by rocky riffs and an aggressive guitar performance, Cast Off is the work of an artist using heavy musical textures to communicate the type of deep feelings that often want to stay hidden. Standout tracks, including the Stone Temple Pilots dirge/gutter rocker No Need and the riff-heavy opener The Night Hag (a track about reoccurring nightmares relating to the death of Hammond’s mum), are brutal in parts and clearly the sound of an artist bearing his soul in service to his art – a process Hammond agrees is difficult but ultimately artistically beneficial: “There’s a lot of dissonance on the record and at times it has been painful stuff, and maybe it’s safer to not bother, but I believe that if you’re willing to go there and put the hard work in it’ll be the best work.”

Yet for all of its heaviness and brutality, scratch the surface of Cast Off and you’ll start to hear echoes from the MJH&TSB debut; mid-album track Kill Yr Darlings draws on dreamy electronica, while album end point He Likes Vonnegut returns MJH&TSB to their original dream pop sound of gentle guitars and sugar-coated melodies, with the two releases drawing on similar messages and intent. As Hammond himself signs off with: “At first the two albums sounded very different – but after a few listens I can hear more and more similarities. The first album is reflective in parts and so is this, it’s just reflective in different ways.”

Mark James Hammond & The Slender Blind release Cast Off on 25th February.

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