A 1-2 punch to the mind and soul – utterly glorious
Kathryn Joseph pretty much burst into my musical world in 2016 with her stunning debut album, Bones You Have Thrown Me and Blood That I’ve Spilled. It was my joint top album of that year. Returning in 2018 with her follow up, Kathryn’s rough, raw, raucous approach to song production and vocal delivery continues to be as bewitching and mysteriously entrancing as before. This album is a little warmer in places than before but only just – this album wants to tackle all kinds of topics and doesn’t shy away from grim reality be it with lyrics or production.
Opening with “liii” Kathryn reads out the song titles of the album before giving us a ragged post-rock spacious angry groan. The piano, like before, is recorded almost like it’s being played through an ancient speaker. You can hear its creaks and moans, the pedals and its muted hammers and this adds a timeless edge. Paired with Kathryn’s voice, which could read the phone book and entrance me with wisdom, echoing percussion and a simple but spacious bass buzz synth, the whole sound has an otherworldly feel that transports you away. It’s an unconventional start as there’s no big hook, but that’s save for the title track that follows. This love song that celebrates the act of a deep kiss and the intimacy that brings is a beautiful juxtaposition of a gentle instrumentation making an epic chord progression become like an emotional supernova as the track grows and expands its sound over the four minutes. Often in this album, a single chord progression or riff stays through the majority of the track, but it never gets old because Kathryn’s always changing something up be it tone or instrumentation. “And You Survived” is a testament to that – a short piece that lets a single piano roll feel like a rustic spaceship takeoff as the cymbals rush at you and Kathryn banshee woo’s you in.
After a slightly stop/start opening the album hits its stride with the entrancing “Tell My Lover”. It’s such a simple track on the surface but it’s got so much power and emotion with every note and chord played, I’ve had it on repeat over and over. The synths are the bass here – there’s no guitar throughout the album at all – it’s all weird industrial noise or percussion alongside the piano and voice and I really appreciate that. To calm down from that rage “And It Will Lick You Clean” is a track of two halves. The first is an echoing piano riff that pitter patters off beat with a waltzing drumbeat designed to make you feel off your step, before it all comes together in a moment of clarity in the second half. The lyrics are superb too as they switch from sexually provocative to a mildly Stockholm syndrome-inducing but in all honesty, they could mean anything to anyone. I won’t spoil them. Desperate situations come up a lot in the album but most directly with “There Is No God But You” which is an unsung sleeper hit on the album. It’s haunting verses evoke a claustrophobic horror whilst the chorus hook is creepy as all hell. I wish the track was longer to sustain that level of creepiness but what is here is fabulous. Switching creepy gears from unsettlingly evil to sickeningly sweet and twee, “Safe” has a jingly high note melody that sounds beautiful until you realise that as repeats over and over and Kathryn cutely exclaims “SAFE! Oooh-oooh-oooh-ooohh” – suddenly nothing feels off limits. As the lyrics speak of a brother digging a hole to bury you in safely, the percussion gets more industrial and shovel like – it’s really well done. The reverse lullaby of “We Have Been Loved By Our Mothers” initially sounds like it’s going to warm you but the warm ballad tones of the track do not match the empty feelings of loneliness in the lyrics. It’s a track that leaves me pondering after each listen and its one of the simplest – again a repeating riff on the piano and just Joseph’s voice to carry it through. She does it so well and doesn’t mind effing and blinding her way to its echoing conclusion – the reverb really makes the track live.
“Mouths Full of Blood” reminds me so much of Kathryn Joseph’s debut album in terms of song structure, chords and delivery. If you love this song and haven’t heard her debut, this is a sure sign you’ll adore her debut too. “Mountain” is another favourite of mine as its full of power, speed, angry and emotion. There’s an element of PJ Harvey’s less produced albums here as the emotional rawness of the two are at the same levels and with this track especially, it’s great to Joseph let rip with big notes and big piano-rock crashes. It’s an anthem in waiting, as is the tired and defeated “Weight” which is yet another favourite of mine. The whole track has a broken, limping, knackered and bruises demeanour about it. It’s lethargic but it’s not given up yet and that is translated energy wise through the vocals and the backing vocals that are like crying sirens of not giving up, no matter how downbeat and smacked down the piano riffs are. As if going full circle “^^” closes the album in just as disparate a way as it opened, with industrial synth hums, warm piano interludes but this time with a bonnie wee kiddie reading a small passage suggesting not all innocence and beauty is lost just yet. It’s a lovely closure as its very sweet when Kathryn joins in to sing us out, giving us a hug on the way.
Whilst perhaps less immediate than her debut, there’s so much hidden under the surface here despite sounding initially quite simple on the surface – every time I listen I hear or discover something new. Kathryn Joseph has done it again. An emotional power punch to the gut and soul – this album gets better upon each listen and will be right up there again on my best albums of the year list I’m certain. A stunning piece of work.
Recommended track: Tell My Lover
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