Album Review: De Rosa – Weem
Posted by Mark Shields
Weem is a small village in rural Perthshire. It sits on the River Tay, secluded, sited to the north of Aberfeldy which is one of the main attractions in the area and the hub for many a walking group and mountain biking expedition. I’ve spent many years going to and from Aberfeldy, but even I couldn’t have recognised Weem as a place name. It could very well be Perthshire’s best kept secret; a wonderful little town no doubt. However, Weem is now also De Rosa’s third studio album proper, coming six and a half years after their previous album Prevention, and an album that I’m unsure if anyone thought would ever happen – including those in the band. Following the release of Prevention and a short tour De Rosa called it a day under circumstances explained to The Scotsman as not being amicable – “We just fell apart at the end of our 2009 tour”. To me the band were on the rise at the time, and it felt like the only way was up and up, just as Scottish music was getting it’s spotlight fully on it and the world had started to pay attention again. It made the announcement about their split a hard one to take, as a fan. I saw them on that tour at an empty-ish Café Drummonds in Aberdeen, where my main memory is walking into the gig to see them play Cathkin Braes as a soundcheck as they’d arrived late into the city.
The first two albums, Mend and the aforementioned Prevention, set a template out for the band’s sound, with growth and change between the two – hallmarks are clever melody and lyrics focusing on Lanarkshire and the wider Central Belt, with a folk sound and overt references to places never before put into song – the Cathkin Braes, the Hattonrigg Pit Disaster – these places, the former being stomping grounds for my dog and I, forever merged together in the alternative pop rock of De Rosa. Weem takes this template and adds the weight of an acrimonious break up and six and half years to the mixture. The expanding of the band’s sound continues on this album like the six years hadn’t passed however – there is a direct lineage across the time and space between the two albums. This isn’t a retread of their earlier work, nor does it feel like a very different band. Tracks like the stand out Scorr Frank Juniper is resolutely De Rosa. “I’ll give thanks / near Scorr Frank’s / Juniper” is a wonderfully wicked refrain, which has no explanation given and doesn’t need one.
Between Mend and Prevention De Rosa undertook a fun internet experiment called Appendices where one brand new track was released every first Monday throughout 2008 to download online, leading to twelve tracks and an album between those two albums “proper”. This illusive album that no one any where seems to have a copy of (I’ve even asked the band directly, and they appear to have no copy) is represented on Weem by the way of tracks re-recorded. The Sea Cup is one of the best the band have ever produced, and it’s wonderful to see it present here in a new form, but also getting the release it so richly deserves. Another Appendices re-attribution is Falling Water is a lightly acoustic song that anchors the darker songs on the album, sitting right in the middle. It sounds light, but it contains the darker elements that makes Weem such a stand out record, and what makes the album seem like such a Scottish album too.
Playing to their strengths continues on the lead single and side A ,track 1 Spectres, a krautrock influenced journey from atmospheric ambient sounds to uplifting almost arena rock. In the time since De Rosa have been away Scottish Fiction favourites The Phantom Band have released four albums and had their entire career, and intentionally or not, Chip on My Shoulder sounds cut from their cloth – with a spooky synth line sitting at the base of the track’s bridge and lyrics obtuse like “look at you head, forget the myth / hook in your mouth, crossing the Firth / ancestors long forgotten now” has a stark message about Scottish identity and what we carry along with us for generations, maybe a comment on the band’s return, but it certainly rings loud and true for anyone from Scotland. The loss of what makes our communities tick and what makes them Scottish is the base of any talk with someone from an older community, a more rural place, or a place like Lanarkshire where De Rosa hail, with the closures of steel mills in recent months still bears the scars of a past industrial heritage long gone.
Comparing this to Idlewild’s Everything Ever Written, another Scottish cult band who went on pause in 2009, Weem feels far more like a complete project, with a central theme running through the album unlike Idlewild‘s great but meandering album. It is assured and makes a concrete argument that De Rosa were a band taken from us at the wrong time. This is a high water mark for 2016 to start with, an album that won’t be forgotten towards the end of the year.
Just like Mend and Prevention, both of which have kept those embers burning over those six years, let it not be another six before we hear some more from Martin John Henry, Chris Connick, James Woodside, Neil Woodside and Andrew Bush, who have a rare mix of what makes a band such a rewarding unit, and the even rarer talent of making introspective, heritage laden and thoughtful rock music feel like an invention of their own.
Weem is released on the 22nd January 2016 on Rock Action Records and is available to buy here. De Rosa are playing concerts in support of the album – 23rd January at Beat Generator in Dundee, 30th January at Summerhall in Edinburgh, and 31st January at The Lemon Tree in Aberdeen. For more information check out their official site.