Generally, when I hear someone advertise themselves as a folk band or folk singer, I can’t help but vomit a bit. As a genre, the respectable ages of British folk music have been savagely torn to pieces when major labels threw polite, innovative folk to the wolves of public adoration.
In one sense, the mass appeal of Mumford and Sons and Laura Marling are a good sign for folk music. It’s a reminder of a time when a folk festival drew a massive community of families and normal individuals as opposed to the more recent demographic of hippies and neopagan mentalists who are still clinging to some warped idea that the 1960s are still happening.
It’s a great relief to hear that all is not lost. Every now and then, someone produces a gem. Little Arrows’ first album Music, Masks and Poems is such a gem.
Previously, William Hughes was the singer in Fredrick Stanley Star. This is quite the departure. The opening track, Bitten Blues is one of the best folk tracks that I’ve ever heard. Although it could have done without the token ‘sea crashing on the shore’ opening, the vocal harmonies are deliciously good and the guitar run gives the feeling that you’re actually being carried through the song.
This is followed by Aeroplane which calls to mind the native songs of some American Native tribe – if they had ukeleles. Starting off with a crushingly tight chorus of ‘The aeroplane body glides’ being sung over and over, coming down into a mellow body until at 3:09 the track takes off into a hopeful chorus echoing the way the track started.
A lot of the tracks on the album seem to follow the pattern of the first two songs. This is a trap that a lot of folk artists have fallen into and probably the only fault that I can find with Little Arrows’ first offering. Even still, if you’ve got to listen to variations on two tracks, you would definitely not be disappointed to listen to these two tracks over and over.
Having said that, Dear Old Diary has overtones of Sufjan Stevens mixed with Elvis Perkins’ first album Ash Wednesday. This is the vocal quality of William Hughes – smooth but smokey and somewhat sardonic in tone and at the same time hopeful.
The circle is broken on Boat. While the modern folk genre is composed of songs that have a vaguely proletarian theme or songs about sailors, you would have very little trouble differentiating between a traditional folk song and a modern folk tune. I must admit, I did struggle to work out whether or not the bright, punchy sailing song Boat was a folk standard or not.
So although a lot of the album is on a bumpy plateau of interchangeable dynamics and choruses and vocal swells, Music, Masks and Poems is an absolute pleasure to listen to. The similarity of tracks shouldn’t take away from your enjoyment of this wonderful album at all – one of the best albums to be released by a Welsh artist in a long time.
Being locked away in a remote place and forcing yourself to write songs is, it would appear, the best way to produce a diamond album.