Album Review ::: Alasdair Roberts ‘Pangs’

Scottish musician Alasdair Roberts, previously of indie folk rock band Appendix Out, has released his new album ‘Pangs’ with Drag City. Among his arable discography of traditional Celtic muscle, myths and fables Roberts’ new album ‘Pangs’ is tightly packed with a wealth of creative arrangements, all threaded with impeccable detail. From the harmonic droning of synths and strings to the melodic bass. The playful blare of punctuating whistles, dynamic drums that gallop and then amble expressively. Pangs showcases a host of songwriting talent that is surely one of the peaks of the folk genre in recent years.

‘Pangs’ title song, is Celtic and medieval in it’s enunciation. Lyrically, Roberts’ plays with themes of mythological stories but there is a tangible sense of realism in the imagery throughout. At the same time, percussion and drums assault the song tunefully with a wayward sense that connects perfectly with the guitar melodies and arrangements.

‘No Dawn Song’ is equally creative with additional flourishes of piano layered gently under the song, as an underlying poignant tone is dispersed with a lightly spoken and melodic brogue. ‘An Altar In The Glade’ is curious and unabashed with it’s spirited barks and lovely cymbal work that never disconnects music from story. A listening treat that sparks memories of the work of the celebrated 17th century Irish composer Turlough O’Carolan.

Alasdair Roberts Pangs

The Breach is no less out of touch with tradition as the vocals contrast with the violin and string sections in a gorgeous call and response; all built on an immense double-bass whose grainy drones are monstrous. Brass sections also add highlights and glimmers of light instrumental phrases that swell over the refrain, ‘You’re always gonna find me’. Brilliant tune!

The Angry Laughing God is the poppiest moment among the track listing, with a catchy  head-bopping guitar riff playing while the band is in full swing. I find this song reminiscent of elements of traditional song ‘The Irish Washerwoman’ previously recorded by The Dubliners; while a mischievous slide whistle cheekily streaks across, as the drums continue with their dynamic and snappy rhythmic changes, cowbell, shuffling rolls and hi-hats a-plenty.

Wormwood and Gall is beautifully arranged with violins, flutes and vocal harmonies while quirky percussion (a musical saw?) dips into the arrangement with rippling oddity for the chorus. Piano and guitars carry the song and the sublime character of the song comes to life among these strangely flirty sounds. The Downward Road is the most experimental on Pangs. Vocal echoes and tremolo effects not usually associated with Celtic folk music take progressive turns and digress from the rule book ever so slightly but are delightfully palatable, and colourful.

Scarce of Fishing is a charming ballad that is plucked with skill and tenacity. It is emotional and lyrical, as a flute carries the musical melody. Lyrical detail is visual and laments a family and love separated by their work at sea. Vespers Chime is a prayer, where instrumentation is full as strings and guitars match each other. Musically it reminds me quite alot of Bonnie Prince Billy, but I find the local patois gives alot more vibrancy and realism to Alasdair Roberts, rather than a make-believe character or version of himself. He is organic, pure and natural.

Song of the Marvels brings this album to an end with similar creative musical brilliance. It summarises the album, and goes one step further in key changes, droning and expression. Synths add to a burning texture that is gravelly and ear-piercing all at once providing a respite and further affirming the ingenious creativity of ‘Pangs’. While songs are sung in typical folk like stories, musically Alasdair Roberts veers away from anything close to linear songwriting and instrumentation. Every phrase is a source of invention, playfulness, and deviceful harmony, organic and tuneful.

We at TSOFD have purchased this album, and very much recommend that you do too!


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