Wednesday, 7 November 2012

sundark + riverlight

I had the absolute privilege of pre-ordering - and subsequently receiving - Patrick Wolf's new double album, Sundark and Riverlight (and a limited edition fanzine).

It has already got some mixed reviews, with some critics tutting at the supposedly absurd addition of woodwind, and the fact that technically, new songs haven't been written.

(I feel like if this is to be a proper review, I have to refer to Patrick as 'Wolf'. Technically. Feels weird.)

I personally think that Sundark and Riverlight is a triumph; the perfect soundtrack to Autumn, and celebration  of Mr.Wolf's 10-years-of-music anniversary.

I think, as such a musical epic, Sundark and Riverlight deserves to be listened to properly; it's not something to be taken lightly and just 'have on in the background'. It just doesn't work that way. It's like a story, a personal adventure that Wolf, by releasing it, is inviting listeners to embark on. By re-arranging and re-recording songs from across his musical career, and doing so in a way that makes them all more compatible with each other than ever, it seems it is now easier than even to relate to and empathise with the triumphs, disasters and general emotion Wolf portrays in his music.
And this fact makes it seem as if now that Sundark and Riverlight is finished and released, Mr. Wolf can move on from the darkness he sings of, and look back proudly at the sheer wonder of the happy times he croons about.

A few gems that really stood out to me were:

House: The laid-back strings and baritone ukulele in this perfect ode to home could almost make you believe you were wandering down a cobbled street in the sun with the one you love; the raw emotion that Wolf's rich, syrup-drenched voice always portrays so well just has such a vivid effect on whoever is privileged enough to hear it.

The Magic Position: That first exclamation of 'Shoot, Bang, Fire!' (a noisy shout in the original song) is uttered on the verge of gently in the reinvented classic that is The Magic Position. There is an almost boyish resonance to the utterance; as if the re-recording of the song evokes nostalgia in it's creator. 

Together: I was so excited when I read in the fanzine. There were a couple of pages full of Patrick's song titles, with notes on modifications next to some of them. Next to 'Together' I saw the words 'flamenco guitar' and became instantly excited - and it really is as weirdly brilliant as it sounds. Patrick Wolf doing guitar is kind of unheard of now - I think he once said in an interview he thought it had been done too much before. But nevertheless, Together is still as madly charming, dramatic and lovely as before. 

Vulture: Tears will be shed. Originally a synthy growl of a song that explodes all kinds of sadistic darkness in 3 minutes of Wolfy angst, this new version is almost the opposite of the first. Whilst the original can charge up the listener with dark energy and the urge to do something dastardly, this time the first line brings with it such tragedy that you feel like you could just deflate when Wolf quietly croons it. The whole piece is now an intimate, piano-scattered storytelling, one that is sure to make Patrick Wolf's fans fall even deeper in love with him. That first time he utters that well-known line 'L.A. big wheels turn, turn'; hearts will melt. His vibrato smooth and even as purring, every word perfectly clear. The entire chorus becomes one heart-lifting sigh of beauty.
But then, of course, the darkness still has to remain in the song for the meaning to still be present; an added verse separated from the initial ballad by a howl of 'yearns'. Then the piano becomes almost messy, scattered notes getting more and more ominous, building up to a snarling-then-sighing stanza of: 
'Rifle mounted above the bed
Knuckles noosing, neck and head
Forced pledge allegiance; allegiance to the beast
With my face pressed down in pillow deep
Soon Santa Ana winds will come
Hell as on earth,
His kingdom won.' 

Wind in the Wires: This song has always had everything. Drama, tragedy, tales of the sea. And the coastal epic that is Wind in the Wires is still just as magical as it has always been, with it's new-found home nestled in amongst swirling strings, and of course, Patrick Wolf's magnificent vocals. If anything, the song is more dramatic than ever; with the line 'this wild electricity, made static by industry' comes a crescendo of excited strings striding alongside Wolf's singing.
And then of course comes the new phrase at the very end, confusing you and at first sounding like the beginning of a different song. Phrases softly strung together by baritone ukulele like prayers; 'all alone I was singing to the sky, all alone just singing to be free, to be free' and 'give me back by family'. The combination of softly sung melody and simple words uttered like a quiet chant encompasses all the heart-wrenching beauty that this double album - and Wind in the Wires, for that matter - really holds.

So in short, I like this album. An awful lot. But remember, if you're going to listen to it, give it time, give it proper attention: it's not just something to think 'I'll listen to the songs I already know I like'. It's a saga, the tale of a life, and not something to be taken for granted.

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