John Grant
Boy From Michigan

(Bella Union)


“Forty years later,” John Grant is crooning in that stately, oak-aged baritone, “and I’m still trying to run.” In the decade since his remarkable solo debut Queen of Denmark, Grant has sketched out the legacies of trauma – of running away and running to – across five records that burrowed from lush ’70s orchestration to more throbbing, nocturnal comedown colours. What we have here is more of the latter, coupled with his heaviest slab of memoir yet. It is autobiographical and requires stamina, its chapters coming in routinely at seven minutes. 

The album was recorded last year with Cate Le Bon, and the Welsh avant-pop auteur has left her mark most keenly on the off-kilter buzz of ‘Rhetorical Figure’ and on the vocoder-led ‘Best of Me’, which is witty and warm. It’s the nine-minute ‘The Only Baby’, however, that justifies the entire project – returning, at the end, to the sonic palette that informed his debut, it’s a gorgeously observed working-through of personal and national demons, with one eye on the White House at all times. Though engaging, the sonic sparsity, emotional self-reference and sheer length underlines one thing: how much you’ll get out of this record depends on your investment in the life of this particular boy from Michigan.