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Tom Emlyn "Return Journey Revisited: Scaredycat Vol.1" Album Review

Like found pieces from different jigsaws seamlessly forming their own sprawling image, Tom Emlyn’s Return Journey Revisited: Scaredycat Vol.1 is an accessible, organic and replayable snapshot of an intuitive and eclectic songwriter.

Tom Emlyn with a cool guitar
Tom Emlyn

While not disparate genres, Return Journey Revisited: Scaredycat Vol.1 visits distinct intersections of garage rock, folk, psychedelia and indie, reflecting its assembly from the cutting room floor of several years’ worth of exploration and writing. Throughout, there are prominent musical references that more than allude to classic and contemporary songwriters, yet without ever feeling forced or necessarily deliberate. Tom explains: "Abandoned work is a normal part of the music-making process, but I felt these songs deserved a second chance. I also wanted to release it as a (small) protest against certain smoke-and-mirrors aspects of the music industry. People will tell you to wait and wait, hold back all of your material for the 'right time'. I can't do that anymore."

Opening single It Doesn't Bother Me strikes a rickety acoustic rock tone somewhere between Pixies and Bob Dylan – the song’s trippy assembly is off-balance and disorienting, as if in danger of coming apart along with its narrator’s claims of aloofness. While the surreal escapist storybook tale of The Robin That Went To Space evokes Syd Barrett, Pigeon lands in the cascading fingerstyle territory of Leonard Cohen. Scaredycat has a Blur 13 feel, like Graham Coxon interpreting a 1980s crime drama theme tune, while Return Journey Revisited fully embraces instrumental cosmic soundscapery.

White Whale's bluesy crush of overdriven bass and smooth hammond-esque guitar riffs have a distinctly Black Keys vibe. Broken Mirror, Like a Cigarette and Every Shadow are folkier offerings, perhaps in the vein of Euros Childs, Willy Mason or Badly Drawn Boy. Sometimes taking a sung-to-self feel akin to Nick Drake or Elliott Smith, several decades of indie influences also come through in a distinctive croon. The album’s title also suggests a sense of humour and (self-)parody, perhaps a somewhat tongue-in-cheek acknowledgement of and tribute to the freewheelin’ troubadour persona, often emulated but less often lived.

Despite these many comparisons, the album is uniquely its own thing. While such a collection could run the risk of sounding disjointed, the fact that it works at both song and album level is testament to Emlyn’s songwriting – the songs feel like they were crafted organically without having to be bent into any predetermined shape. Sometimes observational, sometimes metaphorical, there is often something quite photographic about Emlyn’s lyrics, conjuring trails of distinct imagery from anywhere between a train yard and a celestial playground – curious locations, landscapes, landmarks and liminal spaces mapping a journey from south Wales to beyond and back. The production sits somewhere on the garage spectrum – early Graham Coxon and the more polished moments of Sparklehorse come to mind – and while a couple of moments perhaps take me out of the song for a split second, the sound is engrossing and certainly apt.

With the prospect hinted at by the title, I’m intrigued to hear where a Vol.2 might go (whenever that might emerge) – whether more explorative or focused, a unifying thread running through Vol.1 is the natural quality of Emlyn’s songwriting, lyricism and delivery.

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Cover art for Tom Emlyn's "Return Journey Revisted: Scaredycat Vol.1"
Cover art for "Return Journey Revisted: Scaredycat Vol.1"


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