Review: The Picturebooks – ‘The Major Minor Collective’

The number of collaborations between artists in the last few years has for obvious reasons shot through the roof. The vast majority, as well as being great fun (Gal Gadot and friends murdering ‘Imagine’ being the exception), offer those participating a chance to work with others who under normal circumstances their paths might not have crossed. Sepultura’s ‘SepulQuarta’ live album is as much as you can have through the internet without having a knock on the door from the FBI, but German heavy rock/blues duo The Picturebooks have upped the ante with their new album of collaborations: ‘The Major Minor Collective’.

So what’s so different about ‘The Major Minor Collective’ then? With two exceptions, the duo of Fynn Grabke (guitar/vocals) and Philipp Mirtschink (drums/percussion) had written the music already and set out to find other artists to sprinkle some fairy dust on the unfinished tracks by not only handpicking which song that they wanted to collaborate on but also providing their own lyrics. In doing so, Grabke and Mirtschink ensured that each guest artist felt more involved than had the pair simply sent them a track and said “sing here, here, and here”. The end result is a magical, free-flowing, work of art that you could easily imagine coming out of San Fransisco or Laurel Canyon in the early ‘70s; not so much the actual music on offer because that rocks like a pair of horny rhinos making the beast with two backs, but rather the whole spirit and organic ethos of the project.

As previously mentioned, there are two tracks on ‘The Major Minor Collective’ that were pre-planned; first up is ‘Too Soft to Live and Too Hard to Die’, an effects-laden barnstormer featuring Elin Larsson from Blues Pills, and continuing the organic theme, the vocals were written and recorded by Fynn and Elin at her mother in law’s house in Sweden. Full of pounding beats from the always-mesmerising Philipp Mirtschink, trippy wah-wah, and maybe even a synth or two, this is a head-swirling, gnarly few minutes that has a gorgeous right-here-right-now vibe from two contrasting vocalists. Still in Sweden, the intrepid duo moved to Umea, Northern Sweden where they recorded Dennis Lyxzén from Refused at his practice room on ‘Here’s to Magic’, another trippy-as-hell guitar effect-laden riotous few minutes where the harsh hardcore vocals from Lyxzén work perfectly in tandem with the lush, rich tones of Grabke. A mash-up of Refused and The Picturebooks might sound a tad bizarre, but by God, it works, and along with some hypnotic percussive work from Mirtschink, makes for one hell of an interesting album opener.

The off-the-cuff tracks feature some spellbinding moments: Clutch’s Neil Fallon doing what he does so well on ‘Corrina Corriina’ (the part where The Picturebooks jam over Fallon vocalising is mindblowing), Black Stone Cherry’s bringing some authentic southern grit to ‘Catch Me If You Can’, ‘Holy Ghost’ featuring Marv from Monster Truck is a total riot that needs to be performed live somewhere down the line, and then there are the stop-you-in-your-tracks few minutes that have Lzzy Hale blowing minds on ‘Rebel’ (although Mirtschink does almost steal the show with his manic, pounding beats).

Just as noteworthy are the moments that come as a total surprise: ‘Beach Seduction’ features a gorgeous, husky vocal performance from Leah Wellbaum of American alt-rockers Slothrust, a hugely cinematic track that highlights just how diverse this project is (as well as how underrated a guitarist Grabke is), then there are the harsh vocals of ex-Kvelertak vocalist Erlend Hjelvik on ‘Multidimensional Violence’ which sounds like Dr. John working his voodoo magic with a metal band backing him up, ‘Riders and Farmers’ is a partnership that was always going to happen at some point and features both Laurent Lacrouts and Mathieu Jourdain from French farmers/musicians The Inspector Cluzo, full of lush vocal harmonies and out-of-the-box musicianship (especially the guitars), this one is so good, as is ‘Blind Riders’ which features Lisa Alley and Ian Graham of Austin soulful stoners The Well, somehow, somewhere there is a Wim Wenders or David Lynch movie missing this one from its soundtrack – uber-atmospheric, you can practically feel the dust and grit in your hair while listening to it, and if the plan was to introduce The Well to an audience unfamiliar with them, then it’s job done.

Diverse, intriguing, and kinda magical, ‘The Major Minor Collective’ works on every level. Bravo to everyone involved with this ultra-cool project.

Available now through Century Media.

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