Henric de la Cour
Gimme Daggers
Progress Productions

Henric de la Cour’s first album since 2013’s Mandrills is a dour and weighty affair, with a carriage commensurate with its lenghthy gestation. The course of the ex-Yvonne and Strip Music singer’s solo career has always been a fraught one, with the weight of personal expectations, failure, illness and depression always close at hand. Still, the gloomy pop sensibility of his previous efforts is largely absent from Gimme Daggers, replaced by graver arrangements and melodies that sound like they were a struggle to bring to tape and release into the world.

The tone is set by pre-release single “Kowalski Was Here”, where a nimble arrangement of bass and handclaps and synth bass hoist de la Cour aloft, even as the sustained Hammond Organ chords threaten to drag him down as he white knuckles the words “I knew that life was a precious thing” as if trying to convince himself of their truth. It’s not turgid or morose by any means, but it does feel like HdlC swimming is desperately swimming against a current of personal demons. Similarly when “Driver” starts with a promisingly peppy bit of rock build before spinning out into a much more confessional and moribund chorus, it feels like the efforts of an artist deliberately choosing the harder path.

That pattern repeats itself time and again across the record’s twelve songs, with snatches of light emerging briefly only to be occluded by thick clouds of melancholy. de la Cour sounds positively defeated on “Hank Sometimes”, never allowing the song’s raucous spaghetti westernisms up out of dirt and dust. There are moments like “Body Politic” that have a kind of sad catharsis to them: that song’s gentle swells of strings and piano soften the blow of the song’s less than cheery lyrics. But by and large things stay downcast, even when upbeat, as on “Arkham Supermarket”, which bounces along on a programmed rhythm track but is throttled by a strange mid-song break into monotone and a jarring ending.

All of this culminates with the gloriously acerbic final track “Fury”, the one moment on Gimme Daggers that doesn’t sound like Henric de la Cour is labouring through it. Strangely free from the pressure that led up to it, de la Cour actually sounds content even as he sings his way through a torrent of recrimination and displaced ire. It’s a weirdly purgative song that highlights just how bleak the journey to get to it was, but also the joy of release, whether through victory or just plain giving up. It’s an appropriate ending to an LP that is not fun by any means, but should feel right at home for those entranced by Henric de la Cour’s endless, beautiful discomfit.

Buy it.