Love, Hate and Twists of Fate is the debut album from Rastko, a band that could arguably be described as a continuation of the Singing Loins, but that’s an argument probably best avoided. True, three members of that band (which split in 2013) can be found here. Chris ‘Arfur’ Allen provides guitar and vocals, John Forrester plays bass, while Rob Shepherd shares the vocals and songwriting duties with Chris and plays everything else except the drums (Steve Moore, formerly of Stuart Turner and The Flat Earth Society does that bit). True, you will be reminded of the Loins because of the familiar instrumentation. Allen’s 12-string Washburn and Shepherd’s handling of the ukemandobanjolin, or whatever the fuck it is, are unmistakeable. However, there are two reasons why this album is more like a departure.
Firstly, the band have brought some of their influences to the album. There are subtle brush strokes here and there that do more than just attest to this, they change the nature of the band’s performance, adding urgency and an edge in places where you would least expect. Secondly, and most importantly, there’s the dynamic. Allen and Shepherd write separately, and the songs on the album alternate (more or less) between the two writers. This is where the balance lies, as the first two songs establish.
‘Scars and Souvenirs‘ opens with a warm, radio-friendly feel but a punch in the lyric. The song is about the passing of time and the process of ageing with “little drops of time” and “flakes of life falling out like teeth, falling down like tears”. A nod to the self-destructive urge coupled with a reminder of the type of dream that signifies insecurity and a sense of not being in control. Don’t be fooled by the rolling chords and inviting, familiar sound, and don’t file under Easy Listening just yet. Actually, you should probably strap yourself in.
“And then the windows crashed…” announces the second track, ‘Tiger‘. It’s upbeat and short and has strong vocal harmonies. The lyrics suggest that it’s about leaving a war zone, with a defiant promise to return (“It could have been you”). The “only when the city cries” chorus is magnificent, simple, and reminiscent of a Gene Pitney vocal in the passion of its delivery.
Already, the two songwriters are expressing themselves from distinct positions. Allen is open and confessional in many ways, handling disappointment and inevitability with just a touch of self-deprecation in his detachment where necessary. Shepherd, on the other hand, seems to write from an emotional centre, conjuring characters and backdrops to shift the listener’s focus just enough for comfort.
This is how the album continues. Every track pulls the band and the listener just a tiny bit further away from where they started, until about halfway through when the reverse seems to occur. The effect upon reaching the end is of having gone full circle in two directions simultaneously, yet the overall experience is very much a whole. That sounds like bollocks, I know, but hopefully you’ll see what I mean.