Sunday 16 September 2012

Album Review - The State Broadcasters - Ghosts We Must Carry

The State Broadcasters return on Monday 17th September with their second album 'Ghosts We Must Carry'.  Having taken their time to ensure the quality of the sounds; crafting a continuity throughout; and also that the release was one they were happy with, 'Ghosts We Must Carry' comes after a two and a half year wait since début 'The Ship And The Iceberg'.   And boy is it worth that wait.

Album opener 'The Only Way Home' strums in with a melancholy feel, before lead singer Graeme Black's warm vocals come in, tinged with emotion as he sings "a phone call we'll never forget, delivers the news".  The track then changes into a trombone and cello led instrumental which swells and grows towards a drone-y ending.

The next two tracks are singles 'Trespassers' and 'Kittiwake', both of which have been available to download for free ahead of the album's full release.  'Trespassers' combines Graeme's and harpist Gill Fleetwood's voices beautifully, with sweet piano playing providing a jovial melody underneath.  The effect is to create a dreamy Sunday morning feel (appropriate perhaps as I kick back on Sunday morning writing this review!) and with sentimental lyrics such as "I try to imagine a landscape without you", 'Trespassers is an album highlight.

'Kittiwake' tackles the same subject of loss, yet in a slower, more traditional sounding manner.  It's the kind of song which almost feels as though it belongs in a simpler era.  The music, consisting mainly of piano, trombone, harp, acoustic guitar, cello and accordion, weaves melodies in and out, and the lack of drums means everything seems that little bit more laid back.  This is a common feel to the album, making it perfect music for when one just wants to retreat back from the fast paced nature of the 21st century for a while.  In 'Kittiwake' is the most obvious reference to the common theme running through the album's lyrics; "you were only 42 when I lost you.  I'm so lonely."  When Graeme and Gill joined us in the studio recently I asked about the name of the album, being informed that it referred both to the people who have passed whose influence and memories we carry on in our lives, but also to situations and moments of regret.  It's a feeling to which almost everyone can relate to, and the outward emotion of the album is something which creates a bond between record and listener.

Gill takes over vocals on the hazy, dreamy 'The Only One' before the crackling sound of an old record playing eases us into another album highlight, 'Takeshi'.  That lo-fi sound remains throughout, with the constant crackle and a simple duet with Graeme and Gill's voices completely at ease with one another.  The instrumentation again is gloriously relaxed and heartfelt, the occasional dulcet tones of the trombone underneath the plinking on the piano.

'Where I Belong' begins with gentle humming and a bright acoustic guitar.  In a way it's similar to earlier tracks, the style of music doesn't often stray from the folk based multi-instrumental fare, yet it's become a real favourite of mine over the past few weeks.  There's a hint of redemption in the words of this track, and with opening lines, "these old songs, they do no wrong" it's clear that by reminiscing the 'ghosts' aren't as difficult to carry.

Whilst I say the style of music doesn't vary much, there is actually a whole raft of things going on in each track and the album as a whole.  The tag 'inde-folk' is an easy one to apply to The State Broadcasters, yet it's not the whole story by any means.  There's elements of soft jazz, Americana, classical, traditional, and good old fashioned rock and roll all within this album, made possible of course by the vast array of instruments the 6 piece employ.

The album closes out with three tracks maintaining the high quality of the album.  'The Writing's On The Wall' sneaks in some drums for the first time, and reminds us of the therapeutic powers that a loved one can have; "when I'm feeling this bad, I need to feel your love".  It's a rather upbeat and up-tempo track, and a stonking love song, amongst an album more focused on the melancholy.  'This Old Table' has a drone-y undertone of the harmonium beneath lo-fi vocals.  It's haunting, eerie and un-mistakeningly beautiful.  With no real melody to back the vocals, it's the lyrics and the power of song writing which is brought to the fore, laying bare the trauma's and tragedies of the writer.  The events are never described in full, yet again reverting back to the album title, it's clear that there's personal loss felt within this track.

The album ends with a rather down-tempo track about New Year, creatively entitled 'New Year's Day', a short, sweet and waltzy lament about the desire to call ones loved one amidst the frenzy of New Year.

'Ghosts We Must Carry' will not appeal to everyone that's for sure.  It's the kind of album which requires the listener to suspend themselves from everyday life for 40 minutes, and use the music to do a little self-reflection of their own.  But for those who do, the rewards are bountiful.  The State Broadcasters have crafted an album full of folk/American/traditional musical influences which broads with real human emotion.  I imagine in the writing process there's been a lot poured into these songs, and by doing so the band have given us a lot to enjoy.

The State Broadcasters - 'Ghosts We Must Carry' is out on Monday 17th September via Olive Grove Records.  You can pre-order the album right now on their Bandcamp.

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