4 years is a long time in music, but that is how long award winning folk act The Unthanks have taken to release a new record. Since bursting on to the scene as The Winterset a decade ago – each new album or tour has been greeted with almost unanimous praise. There is no other act that sound like this band, and this new offering does nothing to bring the Northumbrian sisters, alongside Rachel’s husband Adrian McNally, any closer to the mainstream………..but that is exactly how it should be.
Recorded in their own studio facilities, and released on their own label – this set up has afforded The Unthanks total creative freedom for this record, something pretty important when you have the creativity they have in the group. All members have contributed to the writing, however it is McNally who takes the bulk of the writing plaudits – which begins with the title track, a ten minute jazz tinged slow build that at no point becomes unnecessarily epic due to its length – instead hauntingly compelling throughout, swirling from one musical idea to the next with strings and brass sitting effortlessly in the mix, with a repetition in the one verse traditionally arranged vocal that by the end has become part of the rhythm of the song – very clever.
Flutter, likely to be a big player as far as a promotional song for this album due to it’s slightly trip-hop inspired groove, could quite easily be found on any Bjork or Portishead album, but still sits within the folk genre, such is the broad scale of what is on offer within it these days, and how far the band are willing to push it.
Other highlights include Magpie, which admirers of Rachel Unthanks debut album The Bairns would probably most associate with. A sparse track that centres around an eerie take on the nursery rhyme ‘one for sorrow’ – and The Foundling, inspired by Thomas Corum’s Foundling Centre for unwanted children, the track is big in orchestration but at it’s core a real gut wrenching story. At 11 minutes, it out does the title track in length, but again, it’s ever involving musical ideas make the time almost irrelevant.
And that right there is probably the biggest pleasure I get from this record. You have to invest time in it, and if you do, time becomes unimportant, because you will find yourself immersed within the recording and it will be a truly rewarding experience. It’s not going to be everyone’s cup of tea – people who don’t have the time to invest in this may think on occasions it sits a little too one paced and doesn’t move blatantly enough from one song, one idea to the next. That however would be a view taken by someone who doesn’t get it, who doesn’t get the fact that this record is an experience, it is a piece of work, a piece of art that has taken time to create. While dipping in and out of it I’m sure would bring enjoyment to an extent, the real winner is listening from the top, to the end. That’s when you’ll really get it.
Mount The Air will be released on 9th Feb 2015 via their own label, RabbleRouser Music.
Review by Phil Daniels