The CLUAS Archive: 1998 - 2011


A review of the album 'Probably Art' by Day One

Probably ArtReview Snapshot: Day One could have taken two paths: one was interesting, based in the trip hop Bristol sound, the other bland acoustic almost-indie-folk. They decided to take both.

The Cluas Verdict? 6 out of 10

Full Review:  “Probably Art.” The title itself captures some of the internal contradictions of this long-awaited album. As a reflection of the world around us, is art ultimately the expression of life experiences through the mouths of those who live them? Or should it be about moving away from the daily grind, and into the realm of escapism? Day One confront these somewhat hefty questions in “Probably Art” - strange for an album defined by its tales of money, pubs, growing old, relationships, etc – but Phelim Byrne and Matthew Hardwidge see the wider importance of every day life. Does any of this make for a good record?

Yes, and no. The album is a joy to listen to at times, particularly those tracks that retain the characteristics of the Bristol sound. Horns, flutes, organs, strings – when used on Probably Art, these instruments create a distinguishable sound that is both retro and forward looking. There are upbeat tracks such as “The Little Things” and “Travelcards Traveler” that provide a positive view of urban life – small joys like the habits of a loved one for example, accompanied by a fluttering flute sample – it would be hard to paint a rosier picture.
As an accurate comment on modern living, it’s only right that the lighter moments are balanced by darker mood pieces. “Now I’m A Little Older,” with its omnipresent wind and recurring oriental strings, provides a wistful view of growing old, a preoccupation that has troubled so many in the past. The collaboration with (baffling when one considers the tower block aesthetic of the duo), “Give It To Me” is similarly despairing, urban noir driven by gloomy synths but ultimately ruined by the utter repetitiveness of the lyrics. The subject matter of “Money;” meanwhile, regards the frustration of living in a world where a sense of materialism is resented, but obligatory. The music is deceptively chirpy, but the sense of discontent is palatable. As a whole, these darker songs save the album as a whole by bringing a much-needed edge to the proceedings.

That edge is essential due to the uninspiring nature of a large part of the record. For example, “Saturday Siren” starts off promisingly, with an acoustic guitar/harmonica intro evoking an updated 60s folk act. However, it quickly degenerates into bland lite-indie, the guitar mutating into sub-Travis strumming, only saved by the occasional horns that grace the song. It’s a reflection of the larger problem that defines the album. When the influences of the Bristol sound are brought in, the record shines. The frequent recourse to acoustica simply drags the album down.

Phelim Byrne’s lyrics are enjoyable for the most part, if occasionally trite. The subject matter is a view of urban living that moves away from the stereotypical dystopian trip hop view, equally presenting a positive and negative vision of urban culture. Simple parts of life are both celebrated and denigrated – the multicultural nature of modern society is celebrated in the brief character sketches of “Cosmopolita” for example – while “Feet Firmly on the Ground” sees a firm rebuke of the lure of stardom. However, the contradictions in Day One’s stance continue; despite Byrne’s blatant rejection of cynicism, can the darker critiques of society on the record be anything but critical? Is the present state of undercurrent cynicism to be simply ignored in what purports to be a representation of the 21st century?

Probably Art, then, is an album of contradictions. The title track pokes fun at pretentious French films and untitled poetry – the former, for example, results in an argument with the protagonist’s girlfriend, but at the same time, Byrne shows his appreciation for the latter, and the tone is altogether comical. More importantly, it demonstrates the divided nature of this record. Mellow acoustica or dark electronics? Pop hooks or mourning strings? Realism or escapist art? This schizophrenic nature means the album sounds undefined, but as a casual listen it contains enough good points to be an enjoyable. Try to forget the bland acoustic strumming and concentrate on some of the stronger points; the occasional lyrical distinction, organ flourish or horn fanfare. It’s when Day One turn to the latter that their weaker points can be forgiven. And it’s when they forget the Indie rock pretensions that Probably Art truly shines and becomes an enjoyable listen.

Pádraic Grant

 To buy a new or (very reasonably priced) 2nd hand copy of this album on Amazon just click here.

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