Once in a while an album comes along and it takes over your soul. It happened earlier this year with The Little Unsaid's "Atomise" album, but for me, it's very unusual to find two albums in the same year presenting such high quality innovative sounds and atmospheres. Jo Beth Young (Rise) and her team of musicians 'par excellence' just gifted me second. Self-produced "Strangers" follows on from the superb "Abandoned Orchid House", and I was actually wondering how she was going to top that fine piece of work, but she does.
I tried insofar as possible to avoid listening to too many of the pre-released tracks because I sensed something a bit special. "Strangers" already occupies a special place in my own collection alongside "Orchid House" and some of the finest records ever produced, by the likes of Pink Floyd, Peter Gabriel, Joni Mitchell, Sandy Denny, Richard Thompson....and while there will be inevitable comparisons to Kate Bush and Stevie Nicks, this album sees Rise strike her own confident path. The result is an ethereal, atmospheric, progressive, and at times lyrically visceral work of sublime magic.
The doomy gothic piano which introduces "Dark Cloud" contrasts beautifully with powerfully delivered vocals, and you are hooked even before the other instruments come into play with their mix of inventive rhythms and carefully placed, subtle instrumental breaks. The electric guitar that moves to close the song is simple yet imperious in this most elegant of tracks. "Temples" surprises with a vocal harmony opening in a song in which innovative percussion again plays a starring role bouncing off Rise's ever confident vocal and layered backing vocals. Middle Eastern undertones give the song a touch of exotica and mystery.
The title track "Strangers" is utterly beautiful from the outset. Nothing is rushed, and everything is in its right place sonically, vocally, and atmospherically. For listeners expecting predictable structure, these songs abandon convention to provide a vocal experience that rips up the rule books while at the same time reaching into your very soul. You will rarely hear a more flawless vocal work.
"Cry Back Moon" softens and slows the mood. A blend of strings and ebow guitar support another stellar vocal performance. This song simply flows in and out of you to its percussive close. "Burnt Offerings" opens with oriental texture and for me provides the finest lyrical moment of this enchanting and emotionally charged album.
"Rabbit Eyes" carries more of a conventional structure but the delivery is masterful in every sense. "Let's just stop talking about how we feel. Let's just sit here and be still" seems the perfect preface for what has become my personal favourite, "Radio Silence". "Radio Silence. A new kind of violence" will resonate with anyone who has known deep love. It is lyrically eloquent and heart rending in equal measure.
Jo Beth Young doesn't do vocal acrobatics, but she does deliver a vocal roller coaster. "Skysailing" sustains the poetry and leaves percussion on one side to allow the spirituality ripple and pan through your mind. "Radio Silence" would be a hard song to follow on any album, in any playlist, yet Skysailing impressively holds its own. And so to the final song, "The Old Sewing Woman's Song" is nine more minutes of pure artistry, that confirms Rise as one of the most innovative folk artists of recent years.
We live in an age where music is listened to in soundbites, where hooks need to grab us at the start of a song to hold our interest and cajole us to delve further. Just as progressive folk music sounds are once again rising to the surface, it is to be hoped that listening trends are now changing for artists like Rise to receive the recognition they so richly deserve. People may make comparisons with some of contemporary music's finest female vocal performances, but they should flip the thought because this is a work that others will be desperately trying to emulate for many years to come. Go and buy it.
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