Had John Paul Jones opted to front a psych-folk band instead of joining Led Zeppelin I imagine it would sound quite a bit like One Mile an Hour’s self-titled debut. No matter if we are talking about the Jones of the late ’60s/early ’70s or his work today, the tight grooves and quiet reserve are both at play on this album.
This English trio conjure up a breezy yet tightly wound sound than can only be born within a studio — a studio constructed by and for musicians who know and control their instruments. Such an environment lends to experimentation and a starkness inherent in its locale, yet the construction of the songs and sequencing amount to a beautiful song cycle that leaves the listener guessing what’s next.
Cold light is starting to shine
On an ocean out in front of me
There’s no light
Cold light doesn’t go down
Sometimes not for ages
There’s an earthy, poetic nature to the lyrical content of One Mile an Hour. From its opener, “Sunken Ships,” to the penultimate song, “Love You More,” the seven vocal tracks are heavily weighted with existentialism.
You are on beach
A day became a week
A week a month
A month a year
Your house so full of stones
You can’t go home
The falsetto of vocalist Jeff Kightly delivers icy barbs, meta-fictional self-references (the ‘Emily’s Chair‘ of “Love You More” is a nod to a separate musical project he has fronted; “Nine Eight: Live,” the final album track — which may allude to the children’s book Ten, Nine, Eight — is referenced in “Trouble’s Root) and a warmth capable of enveloping pending death:
Magpie is keeping me on line
He’s with all the way and with me all the time
Magpie is faking that my ink is running dry
When the black eyed dog calls out
As much a tool as the instruments (bass, drum, guitar, organ, piano, xylophone) of his fellow musicians, Kightly’s voice, be it multi-tracked for harmonic affect or warbling a melody, defines the band’s sound. Yet, it’s the astute musicianship of this trio that is the hallmark of One Mile an Hour. What may pass as flubs on first listen — a buzzing fret, atonal guitar plunks, a crashing piano chord — are clearly meant to exist in these songs.
Where these are most impressive are on the album’s three instrumental pieces — two interludes that flash fast and disappear without warning and the album’s epic closing track, “Nine Eight: Live,” a 10-minute jam that brings the song cycle full circle, from the creaking ships of the first song to its reference in “Trouble’s Root.” At its midpoint, the song fades out as if ending a false start, only to begin anew by cosmic rebirth.
Much like its greyscale cover, One Mile an Hour plays out like a celluloid art house film of time-lapse photography where a flower sprouts, grows and is ushered into the world in full bloom, only to wither during the darkest of night to repeat the process anon.
Beginning and ending at dawn, attention and time are required to fully absorb the intricacies of One Mile an Hour. For me, such time has been well spent.
Stream and purchase One Mile an Hour below. Limited-edition vinyl copies are available through Snowbird Records.