Love thy Noirbour
Electric-light-piano footsteps echo down the street, accompanied by a faint but growing chorus call: “If you ever step on my patch, I’ll bring you down, bring you down.” Jim Noir is coming. Gliding into view on the opening, thermal refrains of his debut album, Tower Of Love, Noir winks with a baggy-kneed malevolence. As the booming, Revolver bass-line kicks in Noir ups the rhythmic stakes and bounds ever nearer, with the slooshied-swagger of clock-worked Alex. “If you ever step on my patch, I’ll bring you down, bring you down,” he continues to repeat. The cassocked harmonies that chime throughout Tower Of Love’s opening track fail to hide Noir’s joyful intent; step on his patch and he will bring you down. On February 24th he will be on your patch, at The Social. It’s time to ask yourself: who is Jim Noir?
After the release of Tower Of Love, in December last year, the British Press grabbed young Jim by the lapels and hoisted him into the Psyche Pop bag. “A fine addition to the hallowed ranks of British psychedelic oddballs,” cooed The Independent. The Guardian got so excited that they described the album as “melodic genius,” and then gave it 4/5. Although none of the reviews list the ingredients for psychedelic pop, it’s easy to understand why so many tongues have been tripping to get a good word in for Mr Noir. On Tower Of Love he weaves rhythm, melody and harmony into a multi-hued, magic carpet ride. It’s a ride that sometimes flies alongside lysergic vapour trails left by the swinging sixties. Swirling organs. Layered harmonies. Deft acoustic picking. And shifting signatures with colourful segues. But there’s something else. In the recent Scorcese documentary about Bob Dylan, Bobby Neuwirth commented on the era, “Art wasn’t driven. People were judged by what they had to say… they were a lot simpler times.” As with the opening track, My Patch, when Noir has something to say, he says it simply. Musical refrains follow this pattern without ever creating a rut. Noir’s multi-dimensional arrangements open his songs up, inviting the listener to dive in and explore. But who is Jim Noir?
Born in Davyhulme, Manchester in 1982, Jim Noir took to the musical stage at an early age; playing his interpretation of 808 State’s In Yer Face at a school assembly when he was nine. He continued to acquaint himself with a variety of musical instruments and artists but it would be some time before his own material began to take shape. “In Jim Noir stylee, my first song wasn’t that long ago,” remembers Noir. “Perhaps a couple of years ago when I was messing about. It was my first attempt for me working as myself, as a band, as myself. Before that, it was more electronic.” Noir laughs. “Techno and wacky electronica. I’ll use it someday; I’m going to get it incorporated slowly. But not yet!”
Despite Manchester’s mammoth six-string heritage – and growing-up amidst the whirring mayhem of indie-band laden Madchester – Noir’s affections were focused on the city’s electronic output. “It was only the Stone Roses really,” he comments. “And a bit of the Smiths perhaps. I was more into the dancier aspects, like 808 State and A Guy Called Gerald; stuff my brother was bringing home. And there was the effect of the Hacienda.” I ask if he ever went. “No!” Noir chuckles. “I don’t think they would have let me in.” Like many dance and electronic artists, Noir seems to craft his songs around a series of repetitive grooves. New phrases briefly take a bow before working with other elements to build a surround-sound picture. Music you can see. The effect is often mesmerising and cinematic. Tower Of Love’s lyric sheet may be short. But Noir is masterful at blending words and sounds, apparently effortlessly, to get across what he’s thinking and how he feels.
This is my take. Noir has other ideas. “It appears magically!” he claims. “I’m not one of those people that’s got a song in their head and has to get it down. Spontaneity, I thrive off of it. I’m pretty good at the instruments I play. I never really labour over anything. If it’s not working it gets scrapped rather than spending ages trying to work out how to make it work. I like something to happen. If it’s not natural to you then how can it be natural to the people buying it?” Noir’s natural working environment can be a solitary one. “I work best on my own,” he continues. “There are only a couple of people I can work with and that can be a nightmare! I like to mess around on my own. But then I’ve never really tried working with other people so I don’t know. I usually just ad-lib stuff, ideas, and then tweak it. There’s no theory behind it. Just do something and keep going with it.”
After a bit of prodding, Noir expands on the source of his magic. “I kind of listen to something and if it inspires I’ll rip it off,” he explains. “Burn it and then do it again. It slowly moves away until I forget what I was doing when I started. I used to copy bits of the Beatles and The Beach Boys, sing the other parts, not the main melody. I get a line down automatically and do something over the top; happy accidents seem to happen this way. I hope that people don’t think that I’m just ripping off Brian Wilson. But I’m not really that arsed, as long as people listening to my music get something out of it.”
Noir has had to burst his one-man bubble in order to tour, enlisting the help of label-mates Jack Cooper and his band. “It’s good to have four other people helping out.” Comments Noir. “Live, the songs are pretty close to what’s on the album. It is a bit louder which I think will come as a bit of a shock to some people. There are not as many acoustic guitars; it’s a bit rockier. Which I think is fine, you don’t really want to hear the album on stage, you can stay at home for that.” After the tour Noir is going to, “have a bit of a break and then sit down and write some more.” He continues: “There’s no time to write at the moment but it’s enjoyable. When I’ve listened back to the Tower of Love, which hasn’t been often, I feel there are things I could have done a lot better but I guess that’s how it is.”
In contrast to the album’s cheekily abrasive opener, Tower Of Love closes with Noir sounding like the only living boy in Manchester. “This is possibly the only way, the only way I can tell you, you meant so much to me,” he sings. The gamut of Noir’s emotions runs far deeper than a shallow splash on a sun-kissed pastiche trip. But who is he? On the front cover of the album, a silhouetted lighthouse sends love hearts across a darkening sky. I’m hoping that Jim Noir is at the top, keeping an eye and arm out for those that need the tower of love. Do you?
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- June 12, 2006 / 10:27 pm