Singer-songwriter Thomas George is steadily gaining a reputation as a modern-day troubadour; he clocked up over 300 shows the year he began performing full time as The Lion and The Wolf. He toured with several Xtra Mile artists – including PJ Bond and Northcote – so it was only a matter of time before they signed him up too, ready to release his second album, The Cardiac Hotel.
The record opens with faint footsteps, and such palimpsests surface throughout: tolling bells, announcements, creaking doors. These atmospheric touches act like they’re fighting silence on a haunting album balancing uncertainty with hope.
Opening track Don’t Fail Me Now sets the tone. The first word is love and it’s stretched out over a ringing organ, bells and crashing cymbals, with searching lyrics layered over the rising instrumentation. Love is tangible and it’s burned the protagonist before, but hope remains.
Heaven Forbid is atmospheric and crushing with soft falsetto describing a dark night of the soul; an encounter with the devil that’s countered by light.
My Father’s Eyes is a true album highlight. It has insistent percussion but it’s still warm, with gentle reverb and a choral melody that’s somehow both contemporary and timeless.
Love, darkness and family – these threads unite in track four, The Hospital Floor. The beeps and footsteps break through to the lyrics; they’re the inescapable sounds of night on a hospital ward. It becomes clear that George’s musings on transience and uncertainty were not simply philosophical. When he sings “I pulled down heaven/I’ll take on hell/and I wonder,” it’s a deeply personal recollection of a time when his father lay at death’s door. The song journeys from melancholic to cautiously optimistic; by the time we reach the bridge – “breathe in/breathe out” – it’s comforting rather than a desperate plea. Thankfully, “I’ll see you on the other side” is positive in this context – acknowledgement that his father survived the heart attack.
Walk On The Moon leads us out of the hospital and it’s inescapably optimistic, with poppy chords lifting the album up. The Pinching Point is another warm track, a tender finger-picked ditty hugged by strings. Like so much of the second half of the album, there’s a sense of relief mixed with bewilderment.The outcome was uncertain and still feels too good to be true: “all the time struggled to breathe/now she doesn’t have to grieve at the finish line.” The danger has passed but the sharp shock was lasting and life-changing.
The remaining songs are about facing the future with a new sense of perspective. Both Barstools and December are mournful, but the former is lifted with sweet harmonies and warm brass, while the latter is rich and vibrant: “I want to be right back there in the middle/I want to let the light back in.” Past The Point of Fair is similarly percussive and tentatively optimistic: “We don’t have the time to spare but we’ve got the time to care/so deal with it.”
The penultimate track, Witness, encompasses the themes of the album and the demons, struggles and complexities that led to it and that must be overcome:
“I’m a hopeless romantic – I’d kill to feel love/
There’s a good chance I’ll be here at the end of it all/
I won’t fall down, down, down again”
The Cardiac Hotel ends on a high with the masterful track Find The Time. The line “until the morning light/I’ll be by your side” is strikingly hymnal, repeated over gently trippy drums and rich bass.
The album is all at once ambient, anxious and achingly beautiful. It speaks of a deeply personal time without being insular or dispiriting. Although melancholic, confessional and haunting, it’s also filled with second chances and dawning optimism. It’s the good kind of mournful, with warm pop undertones, reminiscent of late-night, contemplative work by Sonic Youth, The Shins, Counting Crows and a touch of Simon and Garfunkel.
It’s an ambitious and accomplished second album for The Lion and The Wolf, easily justifying his place on Xtra Mile’s roster. It’s clear he shares the talent, unshakeable work-ethic and performance ethos of label-mates like Frank Turner and Skinny Lister. One to watch.
The Cardiac Hotel by The Lion and The Wolf is out now- there are various bundles, including gold vinyl, over on the Xtra Mile website.
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