Wednesday, 27 July 2016


CD Review

Locks and Bolts

There is an offshoot of mainstream folk music, an oxymoron if ever there was one, which is an eclectic sounding type of folk sometimes described as electrofolk or altfolk, within this strand are bands such as Harp & A Monkey, Nizlopi and Solarference fit somewhere between those two.

Nick Janaway and Sarah Owen who are Solarference
Nick Janaway and Sarah Owen are a duo who are attempting to put something of a new face on traditional folk tunes. This they do on their new album recorded live at the Cube Cinema, Bristol by using a variety of vocal techniques and the addition of any and every sound they can get their hands on. It has to be said some of the inclusions work better than others but you have to take your hat off to their willingness to innovate.
The album opens with I Wish That The Wars Were All Over which straight away showcases Owen's gentle yet powerful and distinctive voice. Much of the backing music is either produced electronically or with a beat box style rhythm from Janaway. The tune does have an experimental feel about it but the two elements don't quite gel. This gives way to I'll Make My Love A Garland/Sylvie which really shows you how well the duo's voices blend and complement each other, however again the mixture of sounds in the background are hit and miss. There is an element which sounds like someone stroking the teeth of a hair comb which adds nothing to the whole, but the ethereal electronica added underneath their singing does add to the atmosphere.
The second part of the offering is much more meshed together and the odd sounds as harmonies do bring something to the table. The beat box on One More Day brings a definite original feel to the song but then there seem to be too many elements added and the lyrics do get somewhat lost in a slightly confused sound. The voices of the duo and the beat box are good enough, it really didn't need anything adding to it.
Jute Mill Song again has the experimental feel about it although the inclusion of a bicycle bell-style sound is questionable and in fact as the tune goes on becomes somewhat irritating. There is no getting away from it,  the duo's voices are the strength of the track but there is this element of oil and water where the tune never quite mixes properly with the singing. The song seems to settle down a little in the second half and find more cohesion.
The sound of paper tearing opens 'Twas Through Moorfields I Rambled and you have to ask why? The electronic mixing and echoing of Owen's voice as the track gets going does give it an eerie and sinister feel and the electronic accompaniment gives it a sense of brooding. The duo get the recipe for experiment and traditional mixed much better on this song.
Like the previous track, Farewell He starts with Janaway mooching around with tin lids which adds nothing to the song. Fortunately the listener knows the enjoyable singing of the duo is coming along so any indiscretion is soon forgiven in the quality of their duet.
Lucy Wan gets the opening sound right with a Tibetan singing bowl which adds atmosphere straight away as Owen's strong tones come over the top, this should really have been enough but again there is the random input of what sounds like sellotape being pulled off the roll along with other noises which are more of an interruption than an addition.
The song starts off promising but then descends in parts to a confused cacophony. It's only Owen's clear and emotive voice which saves the day.
One of the better and more cohesive tracks on the album is Come To My Window/The Complaining Maid. Here they take another traditional track and give it a genuinely new feel rather than that of a song which has had some random elements bolted on to it.
The new album
With Dives and Lazarus the duo show that some of the previous tracks were gilding the lily. Their voices are excellent, with strength, depth and clarity and they harmonise wonderfully, anyone with an ear for top-notch singing would gladly listen to an album full of their voices alone.
The final track She Rode On The Railway is one of the better examples where their experimental styles blend a little better with their singing however, even in this slow ballad, with its ominous piano chords, you can see a lot of the joins.
It has to be said the electronica and beat box elements of their songs works much better than the random sounds they put in. At the risk of sounding too harsh these elements often sound like they have been included because they could be rather than because they should be.
There has to be room in music genres for people to innovate, experiment and try to push the boundaries and for that Solarference should be applauded.

Locks & Bolts is available now from the band's website and through bandcamp, iTunes and amazon

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