Vocal layered folk music that sounds from everywhere and nowhere at the same time.
Somewhere between singer-songwriter, sea shanty and medicine music sits Jonathan Hulten. I’ve only just come across his 2020 album ‘Chants from Another Place’ but upon first listen it left a lasting impression on me. It’s as if someone took music from heavy metal and turned it into chant folk.
Jonathan does something quite unusual with his vocals throughout the entire album. He layers them up in a smooth as ice ‘aaah’ sound that becomes its own instrument. Underneath he then adds a vocoder layer so he sounds like a robot hummingbird. It sounds Nordic and pagan folk inspired and sets up the soothing vocal chants that backfill every track like a haunted choir. It also reminds me a little of aboriginal jaw harps that buzz and slowly drone in and out of a certain note. It’s strange yet relaxing and Jonathan works it into almost every track.
The music itself is a mix of acoustic folk and cinematic piano music. Always dark, brooding and symphonic without an orchestra, it shares a lot of DNA with heavy rock and metal. The huge chords, the cinematic build-ups, the psychedelic undertones. It’s all here – just in dark chamber-folk form. You have the piano-led beauty of ‘Wasteland’ then the intricate guitar work of ‘Outskirts’ with its quaint organs in the rock mix. ‘Holy Woods’ sounds like Seal making an RPG village theme. ‘Where Devils Weep’ is a lone ranger anthem in waiting.
The majority of the music is just Jonathan Hulten, his acoustic guitar and oceans of vocal layers though. Each of these tracks seems so simple but it is so effectively done. The closing of the album is bolder still, sometimes removing the guitar and focusing on complex vocal performances. ‘Ostbjorka Brudlat’ moves between Norse drama to sea shanty without uttering a word. ‘Deep Night’ is a celestial mix of various octaves of Hulten’s voice with bells, synths and chimes. The big piece is saved for the Renaissance styled ‘The Roses’ is a huge finale that brings in all drama.
Anyone who enjoys acoustic folk would do well to check out ‘Chants from Another Place’. Whilst some may find the vocal treatments a little too intrusive, I found them an absolute gift. There’s so much atmosphere in this album. Jonathan Hulten has managed to make his music feel devoid of a time period or specific heritage too. A quietly stunning revelation.
Recommended track: The Call to Adventure
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