Strange Time by MF Tomlinson album review by Adam Williams. The UK artists forthcoming release is available on their imprint and various DSPs



MF Tomlinson

Strange Time

Unless you’ve been channelling your inner Jared Leto you’ll be fully aware that a virus has spread across the world and subsequently plunged nations into lockdowns, killed millions and created a socio-political divide when it comes to quarantines and vaccinations. Oh, the Jared Leto thing, quick re-cap; the actor/musician was totally unaware of Coronavirus back in the early throes of 2020 having spent 12 days in the desert partaking in a bout of silent mediation.

Quite the opposite to the 30 Seconds to Mars star, MF Tomlinson, the Brisbane born, London based artist is acutely tuned into how Covid-19 has turned life upside. Following on from the appropriately, prophetically titled ‘Last Day of Rome’ EP, that dropped in March 2020, Tomlinson has readied his debut album, again, with a rather apt moniker ‘Strange Time’. The Aussie-cum-Londoner opted to chronicle this strange time, by fully embracing the many lockdowns the UK has faced “the stillness of life imposed by Covid was an opportunity for me to step back and sort of level up as a songwriter” recalls Tomlinson.

Serving as an audio artefact to Covid-times, the musician began working out ideas on an acoustic guitar, with inspiration being drawn from 60s and 70s folk, while expanding into psyche-rock, jazz and pop soundscapes. Despite the elongated pockets of self-isolation, Tomlinson collaborated with a handful of peers, sharing files and snippets online, adding layers of percussion, strings and other nuances to his own arrangements. ‘Strange Time’ astutely captures the peculiarity of living through a pandemic; there’s coy acceptance to being at home permanently and with that comes a calm which mimics the empty city streets, shuttered shops and vacated pubs up and down the UK and across the world. Although, there’s a dichotomy to the serenity, which ushers in a melancholic unease, as this holds a mirror up to the eerie feeling of life being put on hold.

Opening up the album is its eponymous track, via a light guitar strum and delicate, dreamy jazz sparkle. A peacefulness is offset by our protagonist’s croon that cuts to the chase “if god exists/it seems the world is really ending/the sky is red with flame/and now there is a plague”. The preceding track ‘Spring’ finds Tomlinson ruminating on the apocalyptic visions of abandoned cities and nature reclaiming the earth, as brass and swooning strings combine to create a wistful texture for the artist’s mind to wander across. The concept of time and how days blur into one make up the narrative found on ‘A Long Day’ and ‘Them Apples’; with the former adding a glistening orchestral flourish to the groundhog day vibes and the latter opting to sashay along with floating vocal harmonies and something that resembles the midway point between psychedelia and jazz.

Prolonged Isolation appears to have taken its toll on the dark and lonesome pitter-patter of ‘Baby’s Been Gone’ which finds the musician reflecting on the mental strain brought on by protracted periods of no human contact “When the cats away/it all goes to the dogs/the mice come out to play/it’s not fun at all”. Capping off the six track album is the lighter, more optimistically toned ‘Thursday, 8pm’. Boasting jaunty rhythms and playful organ embellishments, Tomlinson documents the moment each week when the UK would combine to ‘Clap for Carers’ on the day and time the song’s title suggests. A gesture and a track that crystallises the feeling of community and connection, while showing a huge appreciation for frontline key-workers through this
incredibly challenging time.

‘Strange Time’ is a sonic time capsule that in years to come will offer a window back into this weird world we’re currently living in. Although right now it provides some comfort, a shared experience and a sense of community, even if we can’t be physically together.

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