Ralfe Band’s fourth studio album Achilles Was a Hound Dog is a masterclass of songcraft, drawing on experiences from band leader Oly Ralfe’s recent past. “For me, these songs are almost like an abstract diary where reality, memories and dreamlike narratives collide.”
The last few years have seen Oly Ralfe branch out musically, with his acclaimed solo instrumental record Notes From Another Sea from 2018, a collection of plaintive and intimate piano compositions, as well as the Live at St Pancras Old Church album from 2020, featuring Ralfe’s solo piano with classical ensemble. While Oxford-based Ralfe has never stopped writing or creating, it’s now been ten years since Ralfe Band’s last long player, Son Be Wise from 2013, punctuated by the rowdy one-off single, ‘Sweating It Out’, from 2019. “Because of life events it’s taken far longer than I would have hoped,” says Oly, enigmatically.
A new Ralfe Band album in 2023, then, feels like a boon. “After making a contemplative instrumental album, I wanted to unleash my inner hound dog!” laughs Oly. “I wanted to surprise myself with these songs, to give me a sense of excitement, so my approach was driven by that. I wanted the album to sound bold, alive and vivid, and to evoke the abandon and fun of our gigs.”
Achilles Was a Hound Dog does all of that and more. The ten new songs and two instrumentals are Ralfe’s strongest to date, offering us a glimpse into his world, with enticing sojourns into the surreal, like on album opener ‘Pale Fire’. Taking its title from the Nabokov novel of the same name, it’s a windswept, expansive anthem with an undercurrent of pathos. “I felt nervously alert, suspicious without knowing why…” sings Oly, uneasily. Then comes ‘Momentary Collapse’, an uplifting song rich in ghostly imagery, delivered by Ralfe in a bassy, lived-in croon. ‘More Than Enough’, an unfolding tale of redemption through nature and love, sees Ralfe shape-shift at will; “I am a pelican, I am a cormorant, I am a drifting shark”.
Ralfe Band’s fourth studio album Achilles Was a Hound Dog is a masterclass of songcraft, drawing on experiences from band leader Oly Ralfe’s recent past.
Mostly recorded in Oxford and London, it features the regular Ralfe Band musicians: Garo Nahoulakian on guitar and bass, Nick Fowler playing bass and guitar, and Mike Monaghan on drums. Friends of Oly Ralfe appear as special guests too, including drummer Seb Rochford (Polar Bear, Damon Albarn, double-bassist Ben Nicholls (Nadine Shah), cellist Gabriella Swallow (Richard Hawley), bassist Harry Deacon (Palace) and drummer Rob Ellis (PJ Harvey).
Providing a further dimension is vocalist Emma Faulkner, who acts as a foil to Ralfe throughout, sometimes embodying the protagonist’s auditory conscience. Evoking Morricone’s use of the female voice, Faulkner broadens the palette and lightens the mood, especially on a more tenebrous number like ‘A Thousand Miles Away’ which Oly admits came from a dark place. “I’ve loved working with Emma to build moods through harmonies and counter melodies,” he says, “it’s a big part of the album’s sound.”
Achilles Was a Hound Dog is the most musically diverse Ralfe Band album to date, where baroque pop, indie noir, new wave and wonky jazz coalesce within a landscape of charming cohesion, a stunning musical melange that’s complemented by the striking, abstract album cover, painted by Ralfe himself.
Ralfe Band ’Achille Was a Hound Dog’ // 1. Pale Fire - 2. Momentary Collapse - 3. Sirens - 4. More than Enough - 5. Scissorlock - 6. Ancient - 7. Achilles Was a Hound Dog - 8. A Thousand Miles Away - 9. Octobermen - 10. Looking for Eureka - 11. A Day a Week a Month a Year - 12. Howl