This self-titled album by The Brothers Briggs drops in like the soundtrack to a long-lost folk horror film. There’s that delicious sense of the indefinably off-kilter, a queasy disorientation counterpointed by earthy and sweet vocal harmonies.
There’s a real sense of rootedness in the music, yet this selection of traditional tunes is set against strange and dislocating soundscapes that create something quite fresh and surprising. Starting out life as a project to celebrate folk singer Martyn Briggs’ 70th birthday (the father of the eponymous brothers), it has evolved into an unusual and original work most deserving of a wider audience.
Martyn Briggs himself appears in what starts off as a fairly straightforward-sounding version of ‘Maid On The Shore’. But he’s soon joined by an atmospheric wave of washy sound that periodically threatens to overwhelm the vocals entirely, and a mid-point break featuring only the creaking of a ship. It’s disorienting and splendid: a fine example of what the brothers achieve on this album.
Reprising one of dad’s songs, the brothers take on ‘The Painful Plough’, even largely reproducing The Singing Tradition’s vocal arrangements. The cadences of a mediaeval-sounding chant sit alongside rhythmic drum beats and what sounds like a clattering of morris men’s sticks.
Opening song, ‘Bitter Withy’ also takes up this overtly percussive style, with its primitive kettle drum, backed by trumpets, ramping up the moody drama. ‘The Hunter’ gathers speed ominously galloping to a close, while whooshy psychedelic electronics and wonky chords make the sickly sweetness of the vocal of ‘Sandy Daw’ seem horribly oppressive.
Old standard ‘Barbary Allen’ gains a Ry Cooder-ish slide guitar and some intriguing pizzicato that really shouldn’t work at all with this otherwise a capella tale of heartbreak and death, but totally do.
‘Soul Cake’ is an insistent, menacing chant, set against a bony rattle (think Saint-Saëns ‘Danse Macabre’) building to a frenetically atmospheric frenzy of guitars and electronic blips before it just, well, stops. Don’t look behind you…
The album winds up with the phlegmatic ‘When Fortune Turns The Wheel’, perhaps the “straightest” song delivery here, moving through clear changes of mood from bitterness to acceptance.
The Brothers Briggs, Tom, Edward and Alex, have close and well-matched harmonies and solidly pleasing solo voices, as well as a creative ear for arrangements. This first album by them feels like a breath of fresh air, not gimmicky but genuinely something darkly original and I find myself really wanting to hear more.
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‘Fanfare’ – silly but pleasing: