Two weeks into 2018 and I think we’ve already had the first huge contender for album of the year. Dutch folk band Rosemary & Garlic released a stunning EP entitled “The Kingfisher” in 2015 and I was swept away by its dreamlike quality. Lush guitars and pianos let a crystalline but fragile voice shine. Transitioning to a full-length release, Rosemary & Garlic shine with track after track of soundscapes that you could wish away hours to.
Opening with the melodic “Birds” that has a majestic sway to the rolling riffs of piano, synth, string and guitar. Ann van de Hoogen’s voice captivates from the first word to the last on every song. She has a depth in her voice that means it sounds strong, but also a vibrato in places that makes her sound like she is about to cry or sigh, or just burst with joy. It’s utterly beautiful in every track and the example of joy is with the cute “I’m Here” that lets the other half of the duo Dolf Smolnaers paint a beautiful but pacey scene of piano and strings that gather momentum in the battle of everyday life. For the chorus, everything fades away as Ann declares “I’m Here” – it’s like an audio hug from your best friend.
Whilst definitely acoustic driven, synths do play a role in the overall tapestry of Rosemary & Garlic. “Julia” is a lush rolling ballad of speedy arpeggios but there’s an undercurrent of gasps and whisks of warped sounds underneath that then manifest as backing vocals before being warped away again. It’s a really clever way to add layers and depth to fill out the sound, whilst feeling unique and shoegazer-y as echoing electric guitar follows their exit. On the ballad front, “Blue Boy” is utterly spellbinding as the words sing “It’s in the small things” and you can audibly hear what they are talking about. There are all kinds of weird and wonderful noises hidden under the piano and voice. It’s far from a slow song, as the piano speeds along to slower lyrics, but the chorus is so humbly beautiful as the track gets minimalistic – it’s like falling into a musical pillow.
What had surprised me so far with the album was how upbeat all these potentially sad songs felt. “Take My Hand” is another example. The dream folk guitars and lonely chords should make things downcast, but the lyrics and underdog fragility of Ann combine to make you shed a tear out of beauty, not crushed souls. It’s so very rare music does this to me – I was taken aback. Floored by devastating reassurance? Never until now.
Synth strings and an ethereal tone takes “The Tempest” by storm, which channels electronica beats and a mystical darker tone. It’s different to everything else on the album yet feels completely in place as they channel their early Sarah McLachlan to perfection. Ratcheting up the tension, “Fireflies” turns the mystical darker tone into something more sinister with theatrical chord progressions, chunky drums and it shows that the songwriting can be allied to a variety of sounds and tones with ease. I love how the lyrics quote the time of a relationship by song structure as Ann barks “I’ve had only one verse to reach out to you.” Rounding out the darker section of the album “Wintering” is a low fi electronica piece that pushes towards the lightest, fluffiest shoegaze rock. The fuzzy guitar is a caress rather than a statement and its as much to audibly show what is missing in the lamenting sections where it isn’t there as being lonely and desolate. The album ends with two more positive tracks. “Shine” continues to nudge the folksy shoegaze tones as an uprising before the acoustic “Dreamer” rounds off the album with the simplest ditty that could be a theme for a nation of people that prefer to have their head in the clouds. It’s uplifting, a testimony to standing the test of time and a raised glass to those to dreamers.
Rosemary & Garlic, quite frankly, blows me away upon every listen. There’s so much here to unpack from sounds to words, to emotions and back again. Without a doubt, it’s one of the best dream folk albums I’ve ever heard and one of the best debut albums from a duo I’ve had the absolute joy to listen to in a very long time. Buy this now – so you’ll be ready to experience this best in Spring, and then curl up with for Autumn.
Recommended Track: Take My Hand