Two years on from Siren, the Bromley indie-folk band four-piece formed by siblings Matthew and Julia Lowe and close friend Tom Sweet return, alongside Harry Stasinopoulos on drums with Rachel Lansky on viola in typically high-spirited form with Alchemy, an album based around folklore from their home town. The scene is set with the opening track, ‘The Anthem Of The Alchemist’, wheezing accordion and brass colouring the jaunty story of an alchemist who “set aside his happiness and family life” to pursue the quest of turning base metals into gold, only when older, to find a bottle he’d buried beneath Keston Ponds and Caesar’s Well containing a message he’d written as a child to remind him “Forget the gold it’ll only blind you”. And thus the album proceeds to guide the listener to discovering their inner wealth, next up being the equally ebullient ‘Find My Way’, Matthew and Jules sharing lead, about finding love and not being alone and that, borrowing an athletics metaphor, “You are my finish line, podium, my gold”.
Skipping merrily along with scuffling drums and parping brass, ‘Junctions’ unfold a story set 800 years ago in Florence where “There lived a boy there lived a girl/Who would cross each other’s worlds”, only meeting twice in person but otherwise in dreams and poetry, they, of course, being Dante and Beatrice, explaining the fable for contemporary times that “true that love is blind/And from blossom there comes life” as the “seasons and years combine/ Fountains of youth subside”.
On the previous track they sang “sound the horn, forget the Rigmarole” and now, featuring tuba alongside the accordion and viola and with Paul Simon shades to its tumbling chorus, comes the chirpy ‘Rigmarole’ itself, taking on board its definition as meaningless confusion and silliness as Matthew serves up the band’s own ‘Desiderata’, passing on such as hard earned wisdom as “Spend your savings, cherish your friends/Follow your dreams ’cause they never end/Bend your bridges, but don’t let them burn/Realise that money, is not all you earn”, declaring on reflection “half the time I was miserable and the other half it was rigmarole”.
Jules on lead for verses and Matthew handling the chorus, the musical and melodic rush continues apace with the la la la-ing ‘Jupiter’, a pandemic number (“Started as a rumour, an uninvited chance to begin again/Then we got furloughed, a whole lockdown in the pouring rain”) about overcoming adversity and looking to better times (“we made a deal that we’d look out for one and all/Some times were tougher; we loved our loved ones through a plastic wall” but also not worrying about missing the wood for the trees (“Don’t be afraid of missing a shooting star, accidentally watching the view/I know a lot is keeping you up at night and you wish the sky was still blue but somewhere through those clouds, is a spectacular view”.
Jules again on lead, they finally slow it down and catch their breath with the appropriately dreamy ‘Lullaby For The Wide Awake’ (“There’s nowhere else to be/And nothing now to worry about that might require your time/If all you do is dream/We’ll figure out tomorrow when it comes”) which, with fluttering viola almost feels like a Welsh hymnal.
Opening with Tom’s Mariachi-flavoured trumpet, ‘The Holiday’ basically uses the idea about getting away from it all as a springboard to a new relationship (“Yes I’m looking for a holiday, oh I will travel anywhere/We could settle for a private plane, tour the skies for one day/I was never one for package deals, but if you’ll take this baggage/Well, then I will take you higher”) while, by contrast, Jules on lead and jittery keys, ‘Strangers Now’ charts a relationship coming to a close (“It’s the way you make a drama of everything/And, it’s the way you talk to me like I am a lesser thing… maybe time for me to finally give in”) with a samba-swaying melody twinned with a Lion King-styled refrain.
Dropping spoons into the mix alongside skittering banjo, ukulele and farting tuba, Matthew offers up the vaudeville meets Paul Simon tinted ‘Mrs Dixon’ about starting over (“Take all your pain, find a love fool, start a circus abroad, set aside a sunny scene/Pawn all your goals, time is endless, but I wouldn’t agree, what a wasted life we lead”).
How illness reminds you of the value of family (“It’s getting late, mother and I am nearly done/But I’m glad I made the effort to come/You taught me all I know and I don’t know that much/But at least I know we’ve all got each other”) obviously anchors the tumbling military drums driven ‘Blood Runs Thicker’ which, sung by Jules, conjures the feel of early anthemic Arcade Fire, while the carousel waltzing strummed acoustic and viola soothed romantic ‘Eglantine’ takes the tempo back down as Matthew croons “Seems to me that poetry is not obligatory when we are sitting in the rain just you and I”, another song about the alchemy of love. Then, accompanied by Northern (soul) brass, the irresistibly joyful ‘Tarantula’ has Jules whimsically singing about escaping the everyday drudge, letting her hair down and , as she puts it, letting her inner tarantula out and “parade him round the streets at the weekend”, the trumpet flourishing refrain calling to mind Tracey Ullman pop.
Alchemy ends, wheezing accordion back, officially, with the drum thumping, mariachi brass sparkling carnivaleseque ‘No, You Are Not Alone’ that picks up on the same theme of casting off the burdens of defeat that weigh you down (“seven years have passed you by, since you felt the butterflies inside/Every day is longer it seems, but the stretch never leans to a brighter life”) and unleashing the symphony you’ve hid inside, so “bring your alchemy and dance” because “you are not alone, you’re everyone”.
Finally, tucked away and opening with and punctuated by brass band flourish, driven along on a military drum snare, is the CD bonus track, the siblings sharing lead on the melodically tumbling, ‘Josephine’s Routine’ as, in festival crowd sing and swayalong manner, they urge to put down the tea, get off the sofa, “stoke those endorphins” and find a new scene.
Alchemy could be put on prescription to treat depression, like the title, the band take words and music and magically transform them into pure gold.
Artists’ website: https://kestoncobblers.club/
‘Lullaby For The Wide Awake’ – official video: