Seasoned fans of this BBC-Folk-Award-winning duo will be accustomed to the melancholia in which Josienne Clarke's songwriting and Ben Walker's musical arrangement is steeped. Their songs dwell upon what Josienne herself labels, "The general agony of existing." Having scaled up their sound for 2014's acclaimed Nothing Can Bring Back The Hour, this album pares it back to a quiet intensity. In an era where digitised music leads listeners to consume songs individually, this duo provides us with a unified progression of songs, a concept album in the most admirable sense. They take us from afternoon, through evening and night, ending with morning and maybe, just maybe, shards of hope and light at the end.
Although rooted in folk, the album's eclecticism distinguishes it from many folksy long players. More than once are we taken into the realms of late-night jazz, with the dusky, otherworldly cello and piano on "The Light of His Lamp" evocative of a Miles Davis backing band and Josienne providing languid, plaintive sax on "Milk and Honey." The radio-friendly opening "Nine Times Along" is gilded by Ben's soaring Knopfleresque guitar flourishes. "The Waning Crescent," the first single from the album, has the feel of downtempo Cardigans, or a Nouvelle Vague track. Vocals on the gorgeously glum "Dawn of the Dark," with its liltingly morose, 'We were born to the dawn of the dark of the day,' possess the quintessence of early Bat For Lashes.
The straight-up folk is also glorious. "Something Familiar" gives us the frustrating impermanence of love, spinning us dizzily in ¾ time. Ben's orchestration on their cover of Gillian Welch's bluegrass "Dark Turn of Mind" brings a maudlin menace to Josie's smoking vocal, to the extent that when she sings, 'I see the bones in the river,' we consider that she may well have been responsible for putting them there in the first place. "Overnight", the simple yet beautiful, penultimate track, brings some of the rebirth of the new day - 'My heart soothed to start' - and takes us the closest we get to early '70s acoustic singer-songwriting.
In their own words, 'There is nowhere to hide in the music we make.' With the first album for their new label, they sound unconstrained, unapologetic and unpredictable - elements that keep an age-old musical form youthful and fresh. And with an album about transience (of love, of age and of each day), they have created a thing of exquisite permanence.
Listen to 'Something Familiar'
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