Alms


Vodpod videos no longer available.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Here are the last two weeks of Folk Bloke shows. Put aside two hours and ruminate on the dualistic nature of the world. One was recorded outside in the sun, the other inside as it rained. Binary systems, yeah?

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Vodpod videos no longer available.

Today, DIY Radio broadcast the first episode of my new weekly show, The Folk Bloke, and that’s what you can see above. If you like the kind of thing I post here, you’re more than likely to approve of the show, so please do listen in. Please? Oh, go on. Please?

Metronomy – Radio Ladio (YSI)

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again – the popular resurgence of folk in the British mainstream is brilliant. Quite apart from the fact that I still really like the artists who’ve got big, it means a whole new raft of wonderful young folksters are making appearances, buoyed by interest in their kind of music. These are two:

I’ve written about Bristol’s Alms before, but their three new tracks are worthy of further discussion. What seemed most important about their sound last time round was a commitment to understatement – a wonderful avoidance of the kind of showy buildups they could be tempted to indulge in in favour of gentle melodies that surround the listener rather than attempt to carry them along with them. This feeling has been kept up in the new batch of songs, but, like any young band should be attempting, these songs have evolved from what came before, revealing new talents. ‘All Good’ sounds like it could come closest to a blustery flurry of noise, but instead builds to a reverb-laden background guitar coming to the fore, gently trickling a new melody into the already established song. ‘Only Up To Me’ is the most upbeat song the band have released so far, an endearing ditty that takes the best of traditional folk music’s rollicking, forthright nature and twists it into a more twee shape. The final of the three new tracks, ‘Sane’ displays the the band at their most adventurous so far, eschewing the more obvious folk tropes of their work and embracing the electric guitar. Not only does the track show off a willingness to play around with the band’s dynamics, but a knack for interesting production that hasn’t been seen before, with looping, echoed vocals making a welcome appearance late on. Alms are slowly building up a nice little body of work, and with an ear for melding extremely catchy melodies and well-constructed folk, they certainly have it in them to catch the attention of a far greater audience than this tiny corner of the blogosphere.

London twosome The Skeleton Dead caught my eye by writing two things in their initial email to me. Firstly, they said they loved me. I’m not sure how personal the email was, but it’ll work to pique my interest. Secondly, they said that they “write songs on classic themes of love, seafaring and finding porn hidden in the woods”, which is as good a description of what lyrics should be about as I’ve ever heard.  Tom Sharples’ deep, breathy vocals are reminiscent of Maximo Park’s Paul Smith, but eschew the pretension I associate with that voice in favour of compelling phrases like,  ‘Didn’t feel the chill at all/ Most probably the alcohol/ But money never better spent/ On a bank holiday weekend’ (in ‘Gather Up Your Clothes’). Lyrics like that could seem banal in less well-executed circumstances, but the band’s music is perfectly suited to that articulation of message, as the dark, intimate tone that pervades each song helps elevate the lyrics into loftier, more poetic territory. The swirling background noise of ‘Are You Going To Overreact?’ augments a relentlessly strummed guitar, whilst my initial difficulty with ‘A Nautical Theme’s fairly literal musical choices (harmonium, thunderclaps and creaking) was quickly allayed by the swoonsome lullaby of the refrain, aided by Claire Wakeman’s velvet vocals. This is the sound of grey, British clouds and what goes on underneath them, and I really, really like it.

This post comes with thanks (and apologies) to the two bands involved, because I have taken a fucking age to get around to writing it, and they haven’t even seemed overly angry about that fact.

Aside from my horrific inner struggle not to dislike ‘my bands’ getting popular (despite my own constant promotion of them), I have to say that Mumford & Sons’ inevitable rise to Radio One glory has had a distinctly pleasing side effect – a sudden growth in the amount of new folk artists, and with that a sudden growth in the amount of new folk music I’m enjoying.

Mega-props then go to The Blue Walrus for basically discovering seemingly the only new folk band to have completely evaded any kind of exposure thus far. Then again, Bristol’s Alms are approaching their music a little differently to the current norm. The usual response to this kind of band these days is to ask how so few people make so much noise; Alms could be asked quite the opposite. The restraint in their music creates a rich atmosphere, where every pluck of a banjo or double bass string adds a little more to the mix, each song possessing a kind of gentle lilt that carries you through but refuses to rush. Even when, on ‘Shove’ they do give in to the kind of grand crescendo we’ve come to expect from these bands it seems entirely controlled – as the bittersweet message of ‘Don’t wanna jump, or be pushed off, but I’m gonna give myself the final shove’ rings out, you realise that the buildup wasn’t to carry the emotion upwards with it, but to act as a counterpoint to that softly-sung final refrain.

It’s that refusal of grandeur that makes Alms’ music so enjoyable – you won’t find any perfect four-part harmonies here, Lawrence and Ollie’s vocals overlap but always seem a little untidy in a refreshingly forthright way. This isn’t music to sing in a crowd, there’s a genuinely heartfelt emotion at work here, and this doesn’t seem like the kind of band who want to ruin that feeling by pushing it too far towards the dramatic. Alms are defined by their honesty – honestly emotional, honestly human and, honestly, they’re wonderful.

Alms – Simply (YSI)