Danger Island is the debut solo album from singer-songwriter MOLE. A double album of 21 tracks, that has taken more than five years to make.
MOLE is the solo project of Californian-born singer, songwriter and visual artist J. Maizlish Mole. For the last twenty years, he has been based in London, New York and Berlin, playing in dive bars, speakeasies, concert halls and every conceivable kind of venue with his various bands. He has been releasing solo work as MOLE since 2015’s Tar Baby EP.
Work initially began on the album in 2012, the first sessions were recorded by Brian O’Shaughnessy (Primal Scream, My Bloody Valentine, The Clientele) at Bark Studios in Walthamstow. The project soon moved on to rehearsal rooms and makeshift studios, much of it put together on the go in Mole’s short-let flats all over London and back in the United States. Undeterred by circumstance, Mole and co-producer Dorian McFarland ran a successful crowdfunding campaign to finish the album at the end of 2014, labouring away on it for a further three years. Along the way, MOLE has released three EPs – Tar Baby (2015), The Grand Tour (2016), and Black Eggs (2017). The album was mixed and mastered by Ben Standage (of Down I Go fame), at his farmhouse studio in rural Illinois.
First track Tar Baby kicks off the album well sounding like a mix between Frank Zappa and T-Rex. With its glam-rock saxophone reminiscent of Roxy Music, piano and hushed vocals this works well as starter track. Annie Get Your Gun has the hushed vocal again incorporating piano and a ragtime feel.
Don’t Forget Me When I’m Gone has a gentle, folky feel with wistful guitars and what sounds like a double bass whilst A Broken Heart Can Still Keep time is a country ode with some nice arrangements of double bass, tambourine and harmonies. There are some rich guitar sounds in there too. My Suicide is actually a happy, jaunty (ironic?) song with a piano that sounds jazzy and skiffle-y. It’s got a kind of rock n roll vibe to it that builds to a crescendo.
I Love London has an easy-going feel that reminds me slightly of Madness, not surprising as Louis Vause is on the album, pianist who has played for Madness. It also builds cockney-style vocals in at times. This is a mix of ragtime, jazz and dance-hall music with lush arrangements of brass and string.
There are several songs after this that really don’t go anywhere such as Keep Me Moving On which meanders too much for me. It has some jazzy saxophone and violins and obviously, it’s arranged well but it just doesn’t go anywhere for my liking. Uncle Billy’s One True Love again meanders. It’s not without its charms but I just want the pace to pick up more.
Again Sick Old River is a gentle low tempo feel, with a nursery-rhyme glockenspiel in there, however, this seems to have more about it. The lyrics are very poetic: “Through the red, red water wade my tender love and I, All around the fireflies reflecting in her eyes” is magnetising.
Everybody Must Crawl livens up the pace with a track of how God saw the Serpent in the Garden of Eden walking tall, having forbidden this declared “Everybody Must Crawl”. It has the feeling of a musical, again with that ragtime feel to it. The Grave Grass is short and sweet with a Hammond organ and a gorgeous bass line that reminds me of a gospel song. Playing Possum is laidback again which reminds me vaguely of T-Rex’s Debora with bongos halfway through it has a similar feel.
Again there are a few more songs that just meander along. Then She’s The One comes along with a 60s folk meets Belle and Sebastian with a clapping beat that’s likeable and sprightly. Swansong has some catchy refrains but still ambles along. Final song It’s Been Fun has a double bass to cut yourself as it shudders. It’s a sombre song (ironically again) with some beautiful violin arrangements on it to end the album.
Whilst it cannot be denied the amount of time, work and investment gone into this project Danger Island doesn’t quite do it for me. It tends to drag out at 21 songs and sound the same in many places. However, it does have different layers and styles of music worth giving a listen in places. With some moments of pure joy, there was obviously a lot of fun to be had in making Danger Island (including its Winnie-the-Pooh style cover) and madcap style and lyrics.