Review in Chronogram magazine March 2016
After The Thaw e.P.
reviewed by John J. Smith
The freak-folk, alternative country resurgence of the mid-aughts found artists and fans alike both smudging the boundaries of past and present, whilst delving deeper into the mine-shaft of earlier periods in search of kindred spirits, lost voices. This produced a gratifying argosy of folk reissues, records long denied their deserved acclaim. Linda Perhacs' remarkable LP Parallelograms comes to mind, among others, yet none more so than Sibylle Baier's Colour Green, an otherworldly, almost swept-away-by-the-indifference-of-time, impossibly tender record publically praised by musicians as diverse as Dinosaur Jr's J Mascis, to members of Radiohead. As with Belle & Sebastian's refreshingly honest recognition of their influences bringing particular renewed attention to The Left Banke (Walk Away Renée, Pretty Ballerina); emerging folk artists with growing contemporary audiences such as Joanna Newsom and Devendra Banhart paved the way for the 2005 release of Vashti Bunyan's rapturously received Lookaftering a full 35 years after her solo debut Just Another Diamond Day.
A decade on and the Gordian Knot of freak-folk multiple-era-influence-crisscross comes full circle here with Scottish born, New York City based, singer-songwriter Lorkin O'Reilly's undeniably exciting, beguilingly mature – he's twenty-one years old! – debut release After the Thaw. Current artists such as Jessica Pratt, Angel Olsen, Mercury Prize shortlist nominee Fionn Regan and Hiss Golden Messenger (this EP showcases a cover of the eponymous Bad Debt), to mention just a few call upon familiar influences that place Lorkin O'Reilly as an immediate counterpart, such is the talent and seemingly innate sensitivity evident throughout. The record is measured, not-picked on, sublimely balanced and, above all, excellently conceived. The production too feels very sharp. On first listen it becomes at once apparent that a whole lot of love, vigour and thought has gone into the compilation of these five songs – with a 15-minute running time, the repeat album function proves indispensable.
Alba, the ancient Gaelic name for Lorkin's native Scotland, opens the EP strongly: the thick, richly-picked, twanging steel guitar is softly accompanied with a series of gently finger-picked arpeggios, evoking nomadic campfire gatherings at dusk on the slopes of the Appalachian Mountains. The song's theme, on closer inspection, is an understated yet poetic comment on the recent Scottish independence referendum. 'Hand me a bottle / We'll drink to the flames of the north.' Throughout the EP the disarmingly complex vocal melodies allow this wholly unique, finessingly rich and layered voice to swell and fall, qualities ornately on show here. I really cannot stress strongly enough what a remarkable voice this guy has. His decision making too feels exemplary: for instance, at times his approach or lyric-conflations and fillers have almost a John Martyn Solid Air quality: he doesn't woop and bop his way into the lyrics, but rather persuades or ushers them to do his bidding. On a personal note, I would cheerfully sell my Granny's Horlicks to hear him cover Martyn's Go Down Easy. There'd be zero shame, too.
The track After the Thaw, the softest, most plangently tender song on the record proves to be an image-rich retrospective calculated to produce heavy sighing. 'The heart of the snow globe where we'll build our new home / Prisms of light hit the wall /... Come back to haunt me again.' Ribcage too, another quiet, subtle, intimate image-heavy song, applies the familiar acoustic arpeggios, yet now accompanied with gorgeous, plunging strings enthused with loss, memory, sorrow and hope. 'Will your ribcage save you from heartbreak? /... Does your phone-book fall from the seam?' There's room here too for playfulness, for instance with the confession (a shared one too for many, I'm sure), 'Here I stand, Lorkin / Dangerously addicted to social smoking', the delivery of which is both poignant and brilliantly punctuated by low thrumming strings. A real highlight on an already lovely arrangement. For me the standout track comes with the cover of Hiss Golden Messenger's track Bad Debt. The lo-fi rustic reverb of the original (a masterpiece in its own right) is washed-through with breezy beautifully acoustics, and a soft, rhythmic knock-on-wood steady progression; complemented too with a curious post-production sluiced-echo effect which I just love, counteracting the recorded-in-the-kitchen on a four-track hallmark of its progenitor. On Being Wasted Pt 1, easily the most exuberant track on the EP provides a confident close which clearly states that there's more to come in the future from this very talented, sensitive musician. I genuinely haven't been this excited by a debut release in years.