Truly epic stuff on long-awaited studio album
Two years in the making, in their own studio in an old granary building in Northumberland, this utterly enthralling album comes four years on from their most recent studio album Last. But those years haven’t exactly been idle, featuring full-band collaborations with the Brighouse and Rastrick Brass Band, as well as explorations of the work of Robert Wyatt and collaborations on projects like Martin Green’s Crows’ Bones. Yet it’s still something of a surprise when the opening, title-track turns out to be an 11-minute epic masterpiece that owes as much to Gil Evans’ arrangements for Miles Davis’ Sketches of Spain as it does to anything from the folk tradition, even with the deliciously familiar, yet ever-so-slightly forbidding, voices of Rachel and Becky Unthank weaving in and around a tune based on a fragmentary lyric discovered in Cecil Sharp House.
Musical ambition of that sort is the order of the day throughout, but it’s thrilling rather than daunting. The dark and haunting ‘Magpie’ wouldn’t have sounded out of place on Crows’ Bones (ornithological imprecision aside) and the lush orchestration of ‘Foundling’ sounds straight from the soundtrack to a French nouvelle vague movie, while ‘Last Lullaby’ is a delicate classic-in-waiting. This is a seemingly fearless band who wear their art lightly and keep their heart lively.