THE LITTLE UNSAID – Atomise (Reveal 080CDX)

AtomiseOver the course of three albums (four if you count the instrumental Electronic Sketches) and two EPs, West Yorkshire songwriter John Elliott has become the bard of mental illness and emotional isolation. Atomise, their first for Reveal, takes its cue from the current climate of division and unrest, but seeks out the pools of light in the darkness, those small moments of connection.

Atomise opens with the evocative line “I dangle from the world/A milk tooth from a gum” on the piano and cello notes of the plaintive ‘Human’ as he sings about the contemporary malaise of drugs overwhelming the sense of self. Fingerpicked guitar and strings guide ‘Screws’ and its sense of mentally drowning and of a lover no longer seeing fairytales but “demons chewing Rorschach butterflies”.

A wash of synths flow through ‘Story’ and its attempt to make sense of things and “stay wired to the brain”, ‘Spiderman’ spinning a web of puttering drums and piano around its images of mortality, conjuring thoughts of Peter Gabriel that spill over into the scratchy textures of watery swirling synths of ‘Music’ as he wryly notes “I’ve got all kinds of suffering/To celebrate.

The steady rhythm title track soars to an epiphany of “I love you unfathomably” and a resolution to see the world “with clearer eyes” before ‘Road’ travels along pulsating hypnotic percussive beats on a song of driving (literally or metaphorically) to a lover’s side while, the stripped back strummed ‘Ignited’ returns to the feelings of exploiting his struggles and self-doubt for the purpose of art, wary of making them “something cheap and sentimental”.

A heady cocktail of Radiohead and Gabriel with its fidgeting synths and minimal piano. ‘Particles’ dissects a doomed relationship with its “prescription drugs and dead eyes” as cello swells, the musical mood shifting for the brooding, technofunk bass of the rhythmically loping ‘Chain’. The album closes with the skeletal introspective synths and strings of the pensive, pessimistic ‘Moonrise’, quite possibly the only song to feature the word ‘deracinated’, before hope arrives on the heartbeat of the whisperingly tender ‘Willow’ as he sings of how you first have to acknowledge the hurt before the healing can begin and that “you don’t have to fight by yourself”. With all its psychosis, self-examination and the struggle to rise above the crushing doubts and its self-destructive tendencies, art-folk music for the 21st century doesn’t get much better than this.

Mike Davies

Artist’s website: www.thelittleunsaid.com

‘Human’ – live:

EDGELARKS – Edgelarks (Dragonfly DRCD004)

EdgelarksHaving previously traded under their own names, Phillip Henry and Hannah Martin have decided to save space on the album sleeves (well, after this one anyway) by reinventing themselves as Edgelarks. Fans will be pleased to know, however, that, musically, the duo haven’t rung too many changes.

Featuring contributions from Lukas Drinkwater on bass, John Elliott on drums and keyboards and table player Niall Robinson, inspired by last year’s tour of Australia, the album deals with themes of margins and marginalisation, of boundaries, transition and hope, opening in ‘Landlocked’, a moody, banjo-pinioned song about Nancy Perriam, a woman from Exmouth, who, in the early part of the 19th century, went to sea and travelled the world with the navy.

The slouching rhythm of ‘No Victory’ introduces a new instrument to their musical repertoire with Martin playing a pedal powered shruti box while the track also features Henry’s beatbox harmonica technique. Indeed, the instrumentation throughout is as eclectic as it is extensive, featuring Dobro, fiddle, banjo, a variety of guitars and the return of the Chaturangui, an Indian classical slide guitar played by Henry. On ‘Undelivered’, a song inspired by the discovery of a trunkload of undelivered 17th century letters, specifically one from a woman to the father of her unborn child, he even plays his lap slide Weissenborn with a paintbrush to create a buzzing drone.

Of a more recent origin, three intersecting true stories make up the sparse, drone-backed ‘Caravans’, pivoting around the 2010 sub-prime mortgages crash documented in the film The Big Short and exploring themes of ensuing loss and lives lived outside the financial vortex where dreams can kill.

Elsewhere, the Celtic-tinged ‘Signposts’, the most traditional folk sounding number, and the minimalist and appropriately glacial arrangement of ‘Iceberg’ offer fairly straightforward metaphors about making connections and people having hidden depths, respectively.

A suitably discordant affair, ‘Yarl’s Wood’ strikes a political note, being titled after and written about the Bedfordshire immigrant removal centre and the allegations of the abusive treatment of the women detainees, the theme of refugees resurfacing on ‘Borders’, which, set to drone and clacking percussion, is based around the true story of Afghan refugees who, seeking to ensure her future, send their five-year-old daughter on a journey, on foot, with two cousins to northern Europe in search of asylum.

Thematically connected, the tabla-dappled ‘Song Of The Jay’, ostensibly about how the Californian Bush Jay apparently sings a special song for the ‘funerals’ of other birds, of different species, serves as a metaphor for universal kinship. The drone is also created from a sample of a Jay singing.

Although also going by the title ‘The Emigrants Song’, sung in Cornish by Martin, the rhythmically pulsing traditional ‘Estren’ takes a different tack in the tale of an American traveller in Cornwall, leaving it open to question whether he intends to be true to the woman he meets and declares he’ll take back home or that she’s the latest in the list of those to whom he’s pledged s his loves.

There’s another traditional number to be found with the mortality-themed ‘What’s The Life of Man?’ given a suitably simple and reflective tone before the instrumentation swells in the final stretch. As well as them both featuring the Chaturangui, it also serves to set the scene for the upbeat final track, the self-penned, acoustic accompanied ‘The Good Earth’ which treats on nature’s life cycle of death and renewal and, by extension, the connections we share with one another, both those around us and those who have gone before as she sings how “we grow on old wood, we are links in the chain.”

The couple say they chose their new name as it captures the concept of liminality or transition explored in their songs and the idea of their music being on the periphery. Given the quality here, that may be a status that will also prove to be in a state of transition.

Mike Davies

Phil Henry and Hannah Martin 24/9/17a

Artists’ website: www.edgelarks.co.uk

‘Song Of The Jay’:

ROUGH ISLAND BAND – Where To? (Own Label)

There may be no indigenous music as such from the Isles of Scilly but that doesn’t stop members of the local community of St Agnes from expounding the merits of living on the ‘Sun Isles’. This is endorsed by the bright and breezy opening instrumental “Periglis Slip-Jig” fronted by Piers Lewin’s whistle joined by brother and special guest Giles Lewin of The Carnival Band on fiddle. The rest of the band; John Elliott (bass guitar), Joe Keelan (guitar) and James Sills (percussion) are by no means ‘rough’ and, via their input show that living on an island twenty-eight miles from mainland Cornwall does nothing to dampen the musical spirit. This is a refreshing album in that it’s basically a bunch of mates getting together for a session and turning it into something rather more tangible. Much like unearthing doubloons (unlike the car in those annoying Paul Whitehouse ads for Aviva) this album keeps throwing up nuggets of pure gold. Lewin, Elliott, Sills and Joe Keelan all have a hand in the song-writing but for me it’s the rather morose but equally edifying “Mostly Gone”, a tale of disillusionment overcome by the majesty of living on the Scillies that does it for me. On a final note I could say that the repetitive nature of the lyrics on the track “All Here Now/A Rough Lament” by guest Tom Dyson sucks (I can’t believe I just said that) but it doesn’t as it brings back memories of early Lindisfarne and the band have even thrown in the kitchen sink (literally) for good measure. For me, this album provides a somewhat quirky but thoroughly enjoyable listen and well worth purchasing…you even get the added incentive of a ‘rat bag’ made from using sailcloth off-cuts (how environmentally friendly) so even if you don’t like the album as the band say you can use it as a wallet. Nice one! PETE FYFE

Artist’s website: www.roughislandband.com