65 Minutes, 7 songs. That’s a whole lot of epic going on. “50 Words for Snow” in many ways is anything but epic because it’s such a quiet and intimate album as a whole. Effectively a winter album, the songs weave their own patterns of weather.
“Snowflakes” is equally hypnotic as it is touching with a specific piano riff and hushed, muted and warm percussion lightly fumbles around the background. Interestingly it features (and opens with) her son Bertie singing beautifully. You can hear her nuances in his vocals and it fits together beautifully as a duet. Veering off to a jazz edge is the dischordant “Lake Tohoe” which seems to thrive in the opening few minutes with off-key moments and clashing vocals over soft piano and light dustings of electronics simmering away in the background. When the string ensemble arrives is when the song really comes together for me however with a perfect blend of humming and strings. Kate’s vocal’s have deepened and now feel quite sultry here. “Misty” completes the piano heavy jazzier trio that open the album with a simple melody, hushed vocals and as with the previous two, a lack of urgency and a take-my-hand warmth feels yours ears and heart. It’s strange how sometimes doing less makes everything feel like much more. The strings are used sparingly, as are the electronics in the background but you’re aware they’re there. Finally the track breaks into a more climactic ending with subtle guitar and Kate finally breaking out of her hushed tones to release her full voice upon us. It’s a wonderful section.
“Wild Man” is the most commercial track on the album (which is saying a lot about the rest) and in its seven minute entirety the infectious guitar riff is just as powerful and hypnotic but the single is bookended by an atmospheric opening and an additional verse at the end. “Snowed in at Wheeler Street” has a background almost tampura like chord which instantly harks me back to Aerial’s Disc 2. Add to this Elton John popping up playing the part of a lover in what is almost like a conversation in music. It’s typically unique and as anti song structure as possible – yet it makes perfect sense. This is the first track on the album that seems particularly downcast and blue.
Going into the more wilder side of Kate is the title track “50 Words for Snow”. Kate’s vocal’s count 1 through to 50 through a filter that sucks the life out it while Stephen Fry lists off the words! Think Aerial’s title track’s song structure and you’re part way there. It’s the most upbeat of the tracks and most interesting arrangement with lots of wind samples and weird warping whooping sounds. For the chorus Kate then tells us all how many words are left to be told! It’s by far my favourite track on the album. “Among Angels” closes the album in a beautiful way almost like the closing of a season with some delicate piano and vocal travels.
“50 Words For Snow” did not hit me on first listen aside from the single and the title track. Everything else is very long-winded and although it’s full of wisdom and emotion, it lacks the immediate punch to hook you. My interest was more than piqued however and I wanted to go back and rediscover the songs again that I didn’t immediately want to place on repeat. Suddenly like sections in the songs made sense, they formed songs within songs. Then it clicks. Like Aerial, its one that you need to sit through from start to finish to completely appreciate. On their own, the tracks are beautiful, together, they weave a season of winter chills, hearty spills and the warmth of music and language combined in one of the best examples I’ve heard for a winter album.