The title of William K.z.’s debut solo album, After A Long Time, derives from the period and nature of its gestation. After relocating to study at the Royal Northern College of Music (RNCM), he wrote songs documenting his feelings of dislocation. Manchester does that to people.
William K.z. (extra hipster points for the change of case) Hearne already has many prestigious musical achievements and commissions to his name. This RNCM alumnus is also a vocalist with raucous brass-based world music ensemble, Bethlehem Casuals. Slacker.
One potential downside of such diverse output is that it can be hard to feel that ‘folk’ signifies anything more than another tool in the box: a conscious, stylistic selection from an extensive musical repertoire. He’d be far from alone in this, of course – but, luckily, this album also has the benefit of being highly invigorating and original, layering up a richly suggestive sonic scenery that deserves to find an audience.
Opener ‘Etochama’ gives some clues as to what’s ahead; its recitative vocal and Syd Barrett-esque naïf lyricality over roiling harp and guitar riffs suddenly veering off into hypnotic psychedelia, followed by the drowsy intimacy of ‘Sweet Sunshine’ as it gradually ratchets up the tension and tempo (think Jacques Brel’s “Carousel” with anxiety).
‘Interlude’ is all grumbling synth, whippy percussion and ethereal distant vocalising. It’s a bit like a Delia Derbyshire soundclip from a folk-horror film trailer (this is a good thing). When the sugary, angelic chorus of ‘River Stroll’ follows, it’s a real shock, especially as pitted against the song’s surreal lyrics and increasingly tormented singing.
Droning harmonium merges with bathtub-echoey vocals and accordion in ‘When I’m Awake’, a contrast with the raw blues and bright electric guitar of ‘Leaky Blinds’ or the shuffling percussion that holds ‘Today I Saw A Fox’ together. This song also contains the marvellous line, “you ask me what I’m thinking, and I reply a blatant lie”.
‘A Poet’ is a dense shape-shifter of psychedelic, primitive and Indian influences slipping in and out of focus, while ‘Distoblarone’ provides yet another switchback. With a superb title that almost makes up for the “K.z.” thing, sparse, African-tinged percussion sets the scene while a semi-spoken vocal sounds increasingly distressed and broken as it narrates some kind of dystopian social commentary. Detuned strings, electronic bleeps, stabs of electric guitar and jazz contribute to the track’s unsettling, discordant feel. As with much of this album, it’s always balancing on the edge, threatening to tip over into full atonality and dissonance, in the same way as some of Scott Walker’s forays into experimental music.
‘The Melt’ closes on a comparatively straightforward, tender blues. But even here are subtle undercurrents in the mix, new elements to pick up on with each listen. And that’s the real beauty of After A Long Time – it’s complex, intelligent, constantly challenging preconceptions and mixing up moods. A provocative debut from an inventive and playful mind, this album is available only as a digital download.
‘River Stroll’ – official video: