Duncan Lloyd, UK guitarist and lead songwriter for the esteemed band Maximo Park, has over the last decade established himself as a deft solo artist. At first, he released his independent works under the moniker Decade in Exile but eventually decided to release under his own name, with his debut solo outing the 2008 album “Seeing Double”. On June 7th Lloyd will release his third solo album “Outside Notion”. The release is a musical journey of sorts loaded with sprawling jams and sonic layers. Additionally, the lyrics are rife with smart observations and heart rendering narratives.
Lloyd, considered the engine behind Maximo Park’s enduring success, on “Outside Notion” steps away from the pop/punk stylings of Maximo into a more fluid and introspective approach. The release centres on our flawed human nature, temptations, loneliness and limitations. When creating the album, Lloyd was influenced by the works of the late great Scott Walker, Julia Holter and Jessica Pratt which resulted in an offering of telling insights, deep emotions and maturity.
There is an inherent dark elegance on “Outside Notion” with the weightiness of the themes being balanced out by the weightless abandon found in the arrangements. There is not only an emphasis on the strings to bring pastoral elements to many of the tracks but also a healthy dose of guitar oomph. The album kicks off with “Historic Elements” and a cacophony of atonal strings unleashed like a clearing of the throat; it then breaks into a Chillwave sonic. That dreamy background pulls in the listener for an examination of reality vs. escape. Crystalline guitar work underpins “5 a.m. Eyes” where Lloyd captures all the isolation and fear found in a sleepless night contemplating how fast time slips away. The repeating mantra at the end of the song looks to emphasize the brevity of life.
“Planetarium” switches from the almost gauzy feel of the first two tracks with a jangle-rock sound. Once again the sonics are arresting as the song narrative wonders at the night sky and man’s endless yearning for the eternal. The first single “Young Dreams” as Lloyd had stated is about,” temptation and being taken in with the idea of a place that really isn’t all that it promises to be”. The accompaniment suggests Mogwaian like clarion guitar riffs and pulled around strings that build anticipation for what follows. Throughout Lloyd exhorts us to resist empty promises to settle and hold out for more. This stellar track ends with a great jam session.
On the title track, ”Outside Notion” Lloyd is joined by his fellow collaborator Sarah Suri from their project Nano Kino. She is an inspired addition to the track that contains great percussion and a healthy dose of moxie. This punchy Alternative track examines urban blight and the erosion of community. Lloyd as always follows his own notions and uniquely offers up the sublime instrumental selection “Journey B”. This offering contains acoustic guitars and evocative strings that together relay a gloriously urgent and soaring sound that works to prepare the listener for the homestretch of the release.
The final three tracks are as strong as any on the release. “Til the Fear Breaks” is probably my favourite song on the release. This bright rocker likens the fear of being lost to the fears we face daily and the importance of letting the fear go and moving on. The lyric “I gamble til the fear breaks” stresses the importance of perseverance in the face of modern anxiety. Lloyd has stated that “Guess and Wonder” was written as a message to his father who passed away in 2010. The track is shimmering in its beauty utilizing a blend of acoustic guitar with evocative strings on this poetic creation which harkens to classic Simon and Garfunkel works. The Final song “First Monday” is a mid tempo rocker that looks to find the delicate balance between realism and idealism, nature and commerce. The song ends with Lloyd bidding goodbye literally in the final chorus to an engaging and insightful album.
Solo works can be a fraught venture for musical artists better known as members of beloved bands. Too often solo releases can be vanity projects that are cringe-worthy, pale copies of the better-known band’s work. Lloyd however adroitly avoids this trap and has become adept at presenting another side of his personality, successfully displaying himself from another perspective on his solo albums. Lloyd with “Outside Notion” creates a strong recording that is consistently brilliant throughout. Those unfamiliar with Maximo Park’s works will not find themselves lost if this is their first encounter with Lloyd’s abilities. “Outside Notion” is a collection of tightly engaging songs that latch unto the imagination driving the listener to press repeat over and over.