Snowpoet – Thought You Knew
(Edition Records EDN1105. CD review by Adrian Pallant)
The immersive experience of Snowpoet’s eponymous 2016 debut album left a lasting imprint… as well as tantalising thoughts of where this folk/ambient or perhaps even uncategorisable project might head next. New release, Thought You Knew, reinforces the band’s wistful, sometimes piercingly emotive personality in a collection of ten, delicate songs which, both musically and lyrically, can tug at the heart or raise a knowing smile of connection.
Fronted by Lauren Kinsella’s otherworldly ‘vocals’ (which hardly begins to describe her creative range), the original sextet with Chris Hyson (bass/piano/synths), Nicholas Costley-White (acoustic guitar), Matthew Robinson (piano), Dave Hamblett (drums) and Josh Arcoleo (sax) this time invites violinist Alice Zawadzki, cellist Francesca Ter-Berg and drummer/percussionist Lloyd Haines into its most enchanted fold. Together, they entwine the fragile, acoustic landscapes of their mostly original compositions with subtle electronics, bathing Kinsella’s own picture-painted trails with an elemental, almost three-dimensional glow. As player and producer, Hyson is adept in segueing songs and creating atmospheres, whilst also articulating fascinating ‘focus pull’ by switching from echoic dreaminess to close-up vocal or solo instrumental phrases; and Costley-White, too, contributes to the album’s contemplative instrumental narrative with crisp, clear guitar textures which are becoming his signature.
Whether through the musical-box hazes of Under the Tree or The Therapist (“You asked me what I would say to the young girl inside of me”), or the Björk-style raindrop inquiring of Water Baby, Snowpoet never fall into the trap of over-egging their stories. Often at around two, three or four minutes’ duration, these songs encapsulate their intended depth as succinctly-crafted poetry (which, perhaps, require a quiet mind to fully appreciate, though there are more rhythmic episodes, too). The vocal hook of Love Again catches the ear with its summery balance of chiming piano and guitar, bass synth and azure-sky backing harmonies; Emiliana Torrini’s Snow is covered in glistening, sustained purity; and the album’s only other reinterpretation finds Kinsella lusciously layering-up vocals in Gillian Welch’s homely country tune, Dear Someone (one of Hyson’s many offbeat finds).
This is a band which carefully melds its sound, rather than spotlighting. The strings of Alice Zawadzki and Francesca Ter-Berg ebb in and out of consciousness, though are especially prominent in Pixel, whose heavenly charm might suggest Canteloube’s ‘Songs of the Auvergne’; and the cathartic lilt of Two of Cups is positively Satie-esque. Lauren Kinsella’s unique vocal exuberance is saved for It’s Already Better Than OK, producing a continuous and endearing Irish monologue which seamlessly alternates between the sung and the spoken (the more shouty moments – “Come on, show me, show me-eee” – many times more colourful than rap).
Plaintive vocal/piano end-piece, Another Step, confirms Snowpoet’s cross-genre relevance to the likes of BBC 6 Music and Late Junction, with Josh Arcoleo’s dry sax adding traces of jazz improv. If you thought you knew any of these excellent musicians’ personas… listen, and think again. It can be raw, it can stir the soul – and is always so, so beautiful.
Thought You Knew is released on Edition Records on Friday 9 February. Snowpoet are touring the UK in March, April and May, beginning with nine dates in Ireland.