Album Review: The Unthanks – Lines

The Unthanks are undoubtedly one of the most prominent and talented folk bands on the circuit today. Their rich and inimitable sound is in high demand the world over as their hauntingly beautiful melodies raise you to joy or reduce to the tears and the bend of a mere chord. Easily one of the most evocative and heart-rending artists around, the group have turned their attention to poetry to produce the absolutely spectacular Lines.

Lines is a three-part series that you can either purchase in three beautiful instances or as one combined compendium. Each album concentrates on a different collection of poetry, based on the perspectives of women throughout time. Volume One brings to life a series of songs about the 1968 Hull Triple Trawler Disaster but told from the stance of Lillian Bilocca while Volume Two hones its attention on the poems of women during World War One. Volume Three focuses entirely on the poetic works of Emily Bronte and shines a light on her work, adapting it to a whole new perspective.

The Unthanks have a charming history of what essentially equates to a bout of historical journalism and like everything else they have ever produced, Lines is a an absolutely breath-taking collection of tracks that introduces you to events and perspectives that you might never have considered otherwise. The songs of Volume One were actually originally performed as a part of The Last Testament of Lillian Bilocca in Hull’s stunning Guild Hall. To date it is still one of the most critical acclaimed performances there in years, voted top of the list for all audience feedback for events commissioned by Hull City of Culture. This remarkable performance has been reinterpreted and reproduced for those of us who missed the amazing show the first time around and this time we have the luxury of being able to enjoy the performance in the comfort of your own home. Volume One is swayed by a vast collection of hauntingly beautiful melodies that sound as powerful and endless as the sea. Vast, undulating and writhing sounds are produced in increasingly unpredictable and versatile soundscape that brings an unimaginable depth to their work.

Volume Two picks up the pace slightly as their opening song Roland and Vera springs into being. The accompanying music might give their songs a sense of a pick-me-up but the content itself is still as beguiling and deeply emotional as ever. One of the most inspiring elements within the work The Unthanks produce is that every last note is set to absolute perfection. They are perfectly adept at crafting worlds and circumstances from scratch with their charming lyrics and then the accompany them with daring and tender melodies. Backed by a decadent orchestra of sound, the group leaves no stone unturned in the search for the sound emerging around them. As songs like Everyone Sang creak to life it truly transports you through time as it is rife with sounds evocative of explosions. Bursts of sound clap all around them and swell with piano melodies; a soaring epiphany of strings like engines overhead.

Volume Three is no difference in the stunning beauty and charm with which it reproduces the thoughts and work of Emily Bronte . Here there is so much focus on the work that Bronte produced that the Unthanks take the ethereal and mesmerising vocal styles of the sisters and combines them with a tender and understated atmospheric sound that allows you to focus more keenly on the words and the power behind them. This is one of the amazing elements within the trio of Lines because aside from the sheer charm within their work, there is so much passion in what they bring into the world that it really allows you to bring your attention to the depth behind their words. The gift The Unthanks give us is that they show us the world through others eyes, and not just their own either. As Lines takes you on a journey through time and melds whole new worlds and experiences together you are brought on an emotional journey with them and the result is something quite undefinable.

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Review by Joe Knipe

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