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Paul Thomas Saunders’ second album is spellbinding, the sound inspired by his father's old jukebox

Eight years after his acclaimed debut album, singer-songwriter Paul Thomas Saunders returns with the terrific "Figure In A Landscape."
Paul Thomas SAunders -- Figure In A Landscape album cover art

sevenfoursevensix (CD, LP)

By John Curley

During a trip to England this past summer, I was invited to a club night known as The Remedy by the DJ John Kennedy of London’s Radio X. Kennedy hosts Radio X’s new music show X-Posure on Friday and Saturday nights. This particular Remedy club night took place at Signature Brew Haggerston in East London on Thursday, August 25th. Among the performers in the show was the singer-songwriter Paul Thomas Saunders, who was performing some new material from his soon-to-be-released second album. His performance was fantastic. At times, Saunders seemed a bit reticent about being onstage and admitted to being nervous. But the crowd was solidly behind Saunders, and that seemed to help him power through his set.

Saunders’ new album, Figure In A Landscape, has now been released. And his journey toward this album is quite interesting. Saunders released his critically acclaimed debut album, Beautiful Desolation, on Atlantic Records in 2014. Becoming disillusioned with the music industry after that initial burst of success, Saunders stopped performing for a time and became a member of a lifeboat crew as well as a paramedic for England’s National Health Service (NHS). He released several singles in 2017, but then stepped away from music once again. An invitation from Bon Iver’s Justin Turner to perform at Dublin’s Forbidden Fruit Festival lit a fire under Saunders and led to him writing the songs that appear on the Figure In A Landscape album. The album is named for Francis Bacon’s 1952 painting Study of Figure in a Landscape.

The sound of the album was inspired by an old jukebox owned by Saunders’ father. The album’s songs have the warmth, crackle and hiss of tunes playing on a jukebox. The album was written, recorded and produced by Saunders himself at his home amid collaborations with Alastair Thynne and Max Prior, with the record also featuring a number of other artists and friends including Ajimal, Hilang Child and SIVU.

The album opens with the excellent, atmospheric “TV, Junk Food and Bed.” It contains a good vocal by Saunders and the instrumentation is understated for the most part. “Bloodlust” is an easygoing track with a nice flow to it. Saunders’ vocal on the song is top notch. “Heartlands” includes an effective echo on Saunders’ vocal and a distant trumpet toward the end of the song. Saunders’ production work on the track is fantastic. “Heaven Or Higher” features a perfectly understated vocal by Saunders, and the echo on the track gives the song an otherworldly feeling.

Paul Thomas Saunders. (Photo courtesy of the artist)

Paul Thomas Saunders. (Photo courtesy of the artist)

The most interesting song title on the album is “Jesus Says, ‘Forgive Yourself’.” It’s a very chilled-out, mellow song with a nice ‘70s vibe to it. “Cruel” is quite beautiful and is one of the highlights of the album. It contains a subdued vocal by Saunders and is about trying to get through tough times.

“I’ll Come Running” is the album’s wild card. The drums on the track are heavier than on the album’s other songs. It’s probably the most pop-sounding song on the album. “Pas De Deux” is a relaxed song, featuring light instrumentation and a hushed vocal by Saunders. Album closer “Love Birds” has disjointed music at the start before Saunders echo-laden vocal kicks in. It’s a solid way to round out the album.

Figure In A Landscape is a very satisfying return by Saunders. And as good as the material sounds on the album, it is even better when Saunders performs live. If you have the chance to see Saunders in concert, definitely do so. You will leave the venue quite impressed. I certainly was when I saw Saunders play live. He is, without question, an artist of considerable substance.

The music video for “TV, Junk Food and Bed” can be seen below:

The music video for “Bloodlust” can be seen below:

The lyric video for “Heartlands” can be seen below: