The word you’ll probably see most associated with Ginnels is ‘prolific’. A Country Life is their fourth album since February 2011 – and that’s not including the four songs they contributed to Popical Island’s Community Games album last year. The first three LPs were essentially solo albums by Mark Chester, who also does lots of recording for bands and plays in No Monster Club and Paddy Hanna’s band. He’s probably in another few groups as well – it can be hard to keep up. So yeah, there’s a reason for calling Ginnels prolific.
“My god that’s a lot to think about,” we’re told instantly on the opening track ‘My God!’ I don’t think Chester is talking about his band’s back catalogue to date, though it’s never explained. What follows is just over half an hour of Los Campesinos! wonkpop, Vampire Weekend theatrics and lines that even Morrissey might think were a little too much – penultimate track ‘Doing Fine’ fades in with all the confidence of ‘Hand In Glove’, but finds Chester in bed, having taken the day off. “Not feeling guilty but just lazy, happens all the time,” he admits in his slacker style. ‘This Love’ is a classic example of Morrissey turning the tables on the listener. Chester unexpectedly tells someone over the phone that “I was gonna marry you”, and they spend the rest of the song trying to convince each other. The giddily repeated chorus of “this love” is stuck to everyone bar the protagonist with that final punch-in-the-arm of this love being “yours” all along.
The Morrissey comparisons aren’t overbearing on these 14 songs, but there is a hesitancy and timidity to the lyrics. “Someone come and get me… I feel deflated,” Chester sings on ‘Car’s Parked’. “Look back on what you’re missing… stop before you need to go apologise,” he says on ‘Honestly’. And on the closing track he is worried about bringing other people down: “I know you’re happy and you’re having fun, I should cop on instead of always acting dumb.” But Chester makes the revelations over such airy and breezy music – on which the drums (recorded in a cupboard) and bass in particular sound great – that the depth of the album can go unnoticed.
The album also seems obsessed with the past and trying to resolve things, like when you think of a good comeback but it’s too late to change the scenario. “Wrap it up, it freezes over time, you can’t remember why but it seems to take you back to when this place it was a home,” he says on ‘Woodlands’. On the worrying ‘Ashton Memorial’, one of a couple of Elliot Smith-style acoustic songs along with ‘The Great Escape’, Chester recalls “the dangerous things I used to do” as the song changes into anxious instrumentation that could fit into the Beatles’ White Album; Lennon’s ‘I’m So Tired’ could be the song that convinced Chester it was OK to sing about being in bed all day.
Ginnels haven’t really changed that much over their four albums. They still ply the same loose pop-punk path, but A Country Life has a depth that’s so casual that it can be missed. ‘Not For Moving’, with the best chorus of the 14 songs, could easily be taken as a middle finger to emigrating.
A Country Life is co-released on Dublin’s Popical Island and the Spanish label Tenorio Cotobade. You can buy the album here. Ginnels play the Pop Inn on Dublin’s Little Britain Street this Saturday, April 12.