‘The End Of The Golden Age’ is the third album by Edinburgh-based band The Wynntown Marshals, and is the band’s second release on German label Blue Rose Records. The record is the follow up to the critically acclaimed LPs ‘The Long Haul’ (2013) and ‘Westerner’ (2009).
The album sees the band drawing on their Scottish roots to give their own uniquely personal take on the Americana genre – the cinematic lyrics on this Caledonian scrapbook tell tales of migrations from Hebridean islands and modern life in the capital city, the sights. smells and sounds of Aberdeenshire fairgrounds, and the rural landscapes of West Lothian.
The music is similarly widescreen in scope and the influences are diverse; the jangling, pile-driving guitars and rich harmonies owing as much to countrymen Teenage Fanclub as to Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers; the use of effects, horns and synths evoking the music of peers such as Jim Bryson, and The Weakerthans.
The central themes of the record are those of memories and nostalgia, and there are frequent references to times, people and places past. The lyrics speak of blossoming (and fragmenting) relationships and a yearning for days gone by and are sometimes tinged with regret, but there’s also an undeniable, unshakeable energy and a healthy undercurrent of optimism which tempers the downbeat subject matter of many of these songs.
While much of the instrumentation on the album is undeniably ‘classic’ Americana – the jangle of the 12-string guitar, acoustic and electric guitars interweaving with Hammond organ, aching pedal steel, and plaintive piano – not everything on ‘The End of The Golden Age’ fits so comfortably into the genre. Hushed horns, synths, and stacked harmonies add to the often expansive soundscapes on offer here, but the Marshals continue to do what they love most, and do best; lyrically strong guitar-driven pop and rock with plenty of hooks.
Album opener ‘There Was A Time’ is a 60s-inflected rocker about the tentative early stages of a relationship and showcases all the elements of the Marshals’ refined and road-honed sound – duelling guitars aplenty, a driving backbeat, swirling keys, and killer harmonies. ‘Dead Sunflowers’ is a slash-and-burn guitar track which demonstrates the power-pop sensibilities that are apparent throughout the record.
‘Red Clay Hill’ – with its wall of guitars - romanticises a local landmark and features a guest vocal from Hannah Elton-Wall of Redlands Palomino Company. ‘Better Than Yesterday’ comes off like an alt.country
Replacements (think ‘Country & Westerberg’).
Rounding out the unbridled energy of many the songs are the album’s more introspective moments – ‘Being Lazy’, a heartworn ode to a failed relationship, ‘The Girl On The Hill’, a eulogy to a friend who died too young, and the dusty, reverb-laden ‘Idaho’.
The Marshals’ trademark story songs are present too, in evidence on ‘Metagama’ – an almost psychedelic ode to a lost island generation - and ‘Moby Doll’, the plaintive and brooding tale of the first orca in captivity, told from the perspective of a guilt-wracked journalist.
The record ends on a high – the title track, again steeped in Scottish imagery, alludes to a relationship that didn’t quite go the distance, but the uplifting chorus (which references classic ‘80s coin-op video games) and deftly-handled instrumentation are resolutely positive.
Featuring original album art by Tom Gauld (best known for his illustrations for The Guardian & New Yorker magazine), the cover imagery perfectly encapsulates the organic, melancholic, old-meets-new feel of much of the record.