The first I knew of Matt Berry being a musician was the release of ‘Witchazel’, his third collection, which Acid Jazz scooped up and put out in 2011. I was a little surprised that it was an album of him playing it relatively straight. Memories of Vic Reeves and The Wonder Stuff had been awoken by news of the record, but listening to it proved to be reassuringly pleasant. Not bad for a side project, I thought. I certainly didn’t entertain the idea that he might be able to conjure up the bewitchingly baroque behemoth that is ‘Kill The Wolf’. It manages that rare feat of sounding like one of those truly magical, long lost classics that get unearthed by labels like Light In The Attic. It’s not difficult to imagine it being forty-odd years old and bearded collectors passing an original copy around in hushed tones for vast quantities of cash. It is a luscious, powerful and often sincerely beautiful album.
Lead single ‘Medicine’ is a wondrous song, seemingly beamed in from the late-Sixties with its hazy strums and Farfisa organ cascading forth before a gentle mandolin breakdown temporarily clears the way. I felt like I’d always known it by the end of my first listen. Now, many months on, it’s one of those songs that cause me drop everything and, depending on the circumstances, nod along merrily or leap up and dance. But, there’s a track which manages to surpass this pop delight, largely as a result of its wondrously epic scale. ‘Solstice’ is at least two songs in one, building towards an almighty wig out. Throw in glockenspiel, mellotron and a church organ and you get some sense of the majesty of side one’s jaw-dropping, nine-minute closer.
It’s folky and it’s proggy but it’s so much more than either of those specific labels suggest. It is never less than fascinating, with a loving attention to detail that leaps out of the grooves. The serene ukelele refrain on ‘October Sun’ underpins a swooning wash of harmony, whilst ‘Village Dance’ functions as an emotive reprise of the former track’s magnificent hook. So good is ‘Kill The Wolf’ that any ill will that might be generated by the presence of a toy piano on ‘Knock Knock’ melts away, leaving you to bask in its swirlingly befuddled middle-eight. It’s a record that sounds great on long country drives in the summer but which can also raise a fond smile as you venture out on bleakly dark winter mornings. In short, it’s a triumph.