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After the most extraordinary of beginnings – meeting in a hostel in Rio de Janeiro almost a decade ago – the latest chapter in EL MISTI’s story opens up on the isolation and uncertainty of the last 18 months. “It means everything to have something created on a piano in a smoky room to be out in the world,” singer-songwriter Paddy Bleakley admits. Written during and in the wake of their debut album, their sophomore release, All Is Lost, found inspiration in the moments of unpredictability that were sprinkled across 2020.
Grounded in folk Americana, El Misti’s self-proclaimed “organic” second album is loaded with melancholic beauty, politically-charged ballads, and religious sentiments. The collage of tracks finds form over the course of 11 carefully crafted songs, ending with their most grandiose statement to date, All Is Lost And Hope Is Gone. Speaking about the songwriting process on the record, Bleakley details how he tried to distil the emotion of being “heartbroken and happy at the same time”. On the folk laden and tender Ain’t That Just Like Me, he details this to perfection, breaking into the opening verse with “Slim pickings in a lonely town, found one I can stand and I settled down”.
The achingly beautiful prose that follows only illustrates a genuine songwriting talent. When Bleakley explains that his initial love for hip-hop helped inspire his love for wordplay, it’s clear to see where these foundations now lay; on One Day the Piper Will Expect to Be Paid, the harsh “It’s not like I need it, my defences have been heavily defeated” is delivered with an assurance that echoes the impulsiveness of hip-hop.
Their northern, bandwagon croon may draw immediate associations with The Coral and The La’s, but El Misti find originality in navigating verses and emerging into the chorus unscathed and as beautiful as before, each word as meaningful as the last. “I never sit down and try to write,” Bleakley adds, confident of his ability to produce music that is touching and genuinely in the moment.
Like any conversation surrounding the folk genre, Bob Dylan is never far. “When I first discovered Dylan I was set,” Bleakley explains, adding that one of his favourite Dylan albums is the first of his gospel collection, Slow Train Coming. The Christian iconography that punctuates Dylan’s Slow Train Coming finds itself bleeding, into Bleakely’s work – the religious Couldn’t God Damn Someone Else and This is a Godless Place both offering more spiritual layers on All Is Lost.
“I wouldn’t consider myself a singer,” Bleakley goes on to clarify. “The words are very important to me.” The political What’s Your Favourite War, Don’t Ya Love Democracy! and Where Are You Going to Hide in the Revolution demonstrate this urge to translate a message through lyrics and quips rather than huge voices that can smash through several octaves. “I am heavily interested in geopolitics,” Bleakley admits, and it is soon apparent that the message El Misti want to portray is one of raw emotion and honesty. Everything about the genesis of All Is Lost’s is both real and tangible – its songwriting is brutally pure, the sound isn’t sparkly clean and the topics covered from religion to heartbreak and politics ensure that the end product is as genuine as possible.
All Is Lost comes to a stunning end with the heartbreaking All Is Lost and Hope Is Gone, a nearly-five minute track with sombre cadence and a directness in its lyricism that aims straight at your heart. As of now, El Misti have no concrete plans to perform live. Bleakley mentions that playing live would be something he’d love to do but concedes that he would like to do this with fellow El Misti founder, Kieran Gilchrist.
This proves difficult at the moment as Gilchrist resides in Mexico, but Bleakley hopes one day they can. The triumphant end to the album closer mimics the same sentiments that run through All is Lost – never has music felt so lonely and yet so warm. Above all, this album serves as a reminder to not consider how far you’ve got to go, but how far you have come.
All Is Lost is available now.