Talking Elephant 2021
Driving caravan through temporal portals, young English ensemble blend their tune into landscape and strike a chord with nature.
It’s been five long years since this Canterbury bunch served up “Hangman’s Fee” yet they didn’t rest on laurels, the quintet’s previous platter documenting their appearance at Cropredy, so “After Comes The Dark” may well open a whole new chapter in the band’s saga, as their fourth full-length studio offering has a new level of maturity to the troubadours’ originals and traditional pieces. Rendered, in the players’ own words, in technicolor, there’s a richer palette involved now than before – not only in the record’s artwork but also in its music, with psychedelia seeping into folksy fare to enhance such creative vein – so while doom and gloom rear their heads on the album too, its nocturnal tones, part of the natural cycle, provide a riveting contrast to the daylight which shines from other, and sometimes the same, songs.
That’s why it’s impossible to resist the call of opener “Follow The River” whose unhurried flow drenches Ellen Care’s honeyed voice and male harmonies in drone until her vocals and violin begin to bounce out of the number’s tense surface, pulling the listener towards adventurous depths, where the tune is delicately rocked by Greg Ireland’s bouzouki and Matthew Dear’s guitar, and letting Ben Holliday’s bass and Paul Dadswell’s drums drive the ancient dance of “Northern Frisk” to the fairy-tale delirium. Once there, the funereal “Dusty Fairies” reveals a few earlier unseen instrumental dimensions to the group’s fiery, riff-fueled, if rustic, swirl, and the mandolin-led, vibrant drama of “Sea Song” fathoms one’s feeling by taking the ensemble’s nuanced balladry to the bottom of their heart. But their molten emotions don’t stop here.
Harmonium bolstering the plea of “The White Hart” that swells to evoke the spirit of Sandy should make futile any attempt to escape this existential dread – however, the team’s interplay leaves a way out for a reverie, whereas the single “Underworld” will shuffle past the dreamer to fold out an arresting vista, a bewitching view of frost-stricken landscape which is given an orchestral, polyphonic uplift. Unsurprisingly, the young artists excel in delivering the definitive spin on “Katy Cruel” – spiking the staple of Scottish-American repertoire with electric vigor – on the route to the record’s conceptual apex. As a result, there’s proper context created for the enchanting lace of “Never Reach The Dawn” to connect, via duets between the songstress and the boys in the band, to the album’s entrancing titular finale.
Their world may feel a tad unsettling yet entering it is a treat and leaving there is not an option: it’s so alluring that guests are bound to stay – perhaps, for ever.