YOU ARE WOLF – Keld (Firecrest Records, FC001P)

KeldDiving down from the avian themes of You Are Wolf’s first album, Hawk To The Hunting Gone, Keld is a set of songs of water, specifically the mysticism of freshwater inland waterways. The word “keld” means “the deep, still, smooth part of a river” – somewhere to swim, to chant spells, to drown, to murder.

You Are Wolf is one among Kerry Andrew’s many projects as a prolific writer and musician. Here, she partners with multi-instrumentalist Sam Hall (whose cello playing is gorgeous) and percussionist Peter Ashwell to bring an alt-folk take on some traditional songs and to push the boundaries with their original material. The songs focus on building up complex rhythmic sequences from multiple layers of instruments and voice.

The traditional songs are delivered fairly straight in Andrew’s clean, clear vocal. Arrangements are rhythmically rich and suitably sympathetic, with the running water and hand percussion beneath the a cappella vocal of ‘The Baffled Knight’, followed by the metallic clinking and sultry cello of ‘As Sylvie Was Walking’ making for a very enticing start.

At track three, there was a sudden parting of the ways. ‘Breathe In, Breathe Out’ is a bafflingly over-stuffed incantation, a mantra-fuelled distillation of urban yoga workshop. Perhaps there’s just a bit too much sonic distraction going on in this one. ‘George Collins’ and ‘Down In The Willow Garden’ which follow, are sweet and simple relief, by contrast.

Generally, though, it’s on the original songs that the band members really get a chance to stretch themselves. ‘Dragonfly’ moves from a sinister rattlesnake shake to African Pygmy singing in a rather Kate Bush-like way. There’s a fine coda to ‘If Boys Could Swim’ where, over a darkly scraping cello, the central phrase is chopped up, eventually reduced to a mere two words “girls, boys” which, despite suddenly calling a well-known Blur song to mind, is highly accomplished and considered in terms of how it’s achieved.

In another take, ‘Drowndown’ plays around with the phrase “Do not go down to the water’s edge”, until it becomes a stumbling, aphasic repetition, any sense of the words subsumed into the rhythm. As well as a strong influence of minimalism, there’s more than an echo of P J Harvey’s “Down By The Water” hereabouts. Except that where Harvey is visceral, You Are Wolf are cerebral. What this means – for this listener at least, please do listen and form your own view – is that it’s entirely possible to appreciate the composition and musical skill on a coolly intellectual level, without ever being troubled by the hot, primal tug of emotional connection.

Su O’Brien

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Artist’s website: www.youarewolf.com

‘As Sylvie Was Walking’ – official video: