Music Reviews

Stewing on and Swooning Over John Myrtle’s “Myrtle Soup”

2021 may finally, blissfully be in the rearview, but there were a few delectable albums whose sizzle we missed amidst the pandemic madness that deserve a spot amongst your 2022 spins, and cheeky Brit John Myrtle’s Myrtle Soup (with vinyl album release set for January 28) is this chef’s choice of the day. 

John Myrtle crafts songs that simmer with the earnestness and innocence of the early Fab Four but delivers them straight from his London bedroom (or kitchen?) with a knowing modern wink at the sheer absurdity of bursting into song about matters of the heart. On songs like “How Can You Tell If You Love Her” he tackles such matters head on, but then shapeshifts into a spying arachnid whose eight rolling eyes have “seen it all” on “Spider on the Wall.” “All the cuts you’ve bled / And the tears you’ve shed / The secrets you’re trying to keep / ‘Round your life I creep / I’ve seen it all / Spider on the wall,” he taunts, hitting a sweet spot somewhere between eerie and enchanting. The perpetual observer, he devotes an entire song to asking a magpie what shiny treasure it discovered and another to the “ballad” that the raindrops play against his windowpane. On his previous EP, a marauding vegetable garden slug gets a song to make his case, and on another, instead of singing love’s praises, Myrtle cautions his audience directly, “Listen to me closely / Beware of love.” 

He’s not wrong about the hazards of love or the wisdom of listening to his songs closely. With acoustic guitars, playful keyboards and intimate vocals, he serves melodies glittery as that magpie’s treasure or gently ominous as the lurking little spider, infused with some wistful sadness and occasional smirking but without a note of sourness. In music as in soup, the old idiom that “too many cooks spoil the broth” often rings true. Myrtle’s songs show the singular focus and cohesiveness that can come from an artist whose vision isn’t a compromise between band members because, well, he can play all the damn instruments himself, thank you very much. It’s a complete, one-person manifesto recorded straight to tape of savory harmonies and creamy melodies, punctuated with recordings of blowing bubbles in case you ever suspect him of stewing in self-importance. 

A scroll through his Spotify playlists reveals a not-unexpected affinity for a slew of late great sensitive ‘60s and ‘70s cult artists — Margo Guryan, Del Shannon, Kevin Ayers, Emitt Rhodes’ the Merry-Go-Round, Curt Boettcher, Duncan Browne and of course, the brothers Everly. The latter pair feel perhaps most evident in Myrtle’s sincere, mischievous and pleasantly lovelorn sound, but he also exhibits a bit of the unaffected, deadpan delivery of Kevin Ayers (not to mention that artist’s knack for composing odes to unlikely subjects like bananas, hats and Caribbean moons). The song “Remember Holly Park” may very well be a secret shoutout to Emitt Rhode’s own “Holly Park.” Myrtle also demonstrates a gift for melodies so floating and cresting that you could sail a ship on them, approaching Duncan Browne-style tuneful journeys across rolling seas far beyond the confines of a mere bowl of soup.

Sometimes soup is relegated to lowly appetizer status or made to share equal billing with wilting side salads, but Myrtle Soup is hearty, inspired and satisfying enough to make a meal, warm and strangely comforting and worth savoring to the last spoonful. Maybe savor it carefully, though, because knowing John Myrtle, there just might be a fly in that soup with an oddly endearing song to sing on the next album.


Check out the album on bandcamp: