Young Waters : Young Waters28.09.18 : YW Records
For its ambition alone this is one of the most impressive English folk debuts recently released - it at least ranks equally for attention with Hannah Sanders & Ben Savage's acclaimed and beguiling Before the Sun. It shares with that album a rare, elemental beauty.
Previously trading as Snufkin, Young Waters are a five-piece band from Bristol comprising Theo Passingham (vocals & guitar), Kerry Ann Jangle (vocals & percussion), Liam O'Connell (double bass & vocals), Calum Smith (violin) and Rowen Elliot (viola). Their home city has a tradition for innovative music - as if to honour this their debut album pushes and pulls at the boundaries of folk to create a ground-breaking soundscape.
The band has drawn comparisons to Fairport Convention and The Incredible String Band - but it is their other influences, which include Philip Glass, John Tavener and Avro Pärt, that make their sound unique. With a nod to these latter greats the arrangements of the songs share a common orchestral attention to detail. This approach allows full space for the immaculate vocals, resonant strings and crafted guitar to carve compelling acoustic sculptures.
It's a fully collaborative effort - all the song writing is Theo Passingham's work, but after that, as they state, "there is a joint obsession with finding the most emotive and beautiful possible way of conveying the songs through harmony, texture and tension and release".
The album was mostly recorded at Peter Gabriel's Real World Studios - an opportunity seized by winning Bath Folk Festival's New Shoots competition. Two additional songs (Polly Vaughn and Don't Stare at the Sun) were subsequently captured at Norton St Philip Church.
The first track, Dust, immediately sets out the collective's stall. For six minutes Theo and Kerry's vocals sway and dance like a pair of jackdaws weaving, soaring and swooping on the wind. The result is a hypnotic and meditative treat - made so by an abstract refrain ("We begin to rust, we turn to dust, just another day in the paradise circus") endlessly repeated with subtle shifts in emotional emphasis each time to create the song's depth of colour.
At the other end of the album Swimming Pool signs off with a deft guitar line leading into a languid song of existential metaphors ("If life is a swimming pool how do I swim?") that turns vibrant and sprightly for a long instrumental section before the vocals reassert the original mood.
In between these bookends are six more tracks, all self-written apart from an additive-free cover of Jesca Hoop's Enemy and the traditional song Polly Vaughn.
They are all successful pieces. Polly Vaughn has a tragic narrative believed to be based on true events, detailing a hunter accidentally shooting his true love and choosing to face the consequences in justice; it is sung a capella, led by Kerry's doleful vocal, for a striking and effective reading. Of Passingham's compositions Don't Stare at the Sun is a standout - fully realised and emotionally fleshed out despite the restrained instrumentation - and Weary Soul is epic in intent and execution, not least because it demonstrates the dexterity of the whole band in full flight.
With appearances at a host of festivals, including Glastonbury, Broadstairs, Cambridge, Wilderness, Boomtown and Smugglers, Young Waters have built a live reputation, but it is with this debut album that they must define themselves for a wider audience - and, plangent, poised and heartfelt, it is a spellbinding declaration of neo-folk intent.
YOUNG WATERS I Don't Stare at the Sun