After such a long time of writing music reviews you sort of get an inkling, a first impression before even listening to the music of an album as it falls out of the review pile and under the pen whether it is going to be merely another day at the office or it will end up as the latest addition to your own record collection. Okay, the name White Robot might sound a bit rock or dance but anyone calling their album The Belligerent North Star has my interest piqued immediately. I also like tasteful artwork, spacious music, genre-splicing, graceful harmonies, ambient vibes, female vocals and music which looks forward to new horizons rather than past glories.
In fact if I wrote a list of all the features that would make for the perfect album for me, this not only ticks them all but throws in a few that I hadn’t even thought of. Don’t you just love it when an album comes out of nowhere and knocks you to the floor with its strange beauty? To say that this is merely a folk album would be to grossly understate what’s going on here although restrained rootsy sounds, ambient folk and hushed country lilts certainly beat at its heart. Paranoid Rose is a perfect example of where they verve off from convention, a hazy, cosmic country piece but the strange drifting electronica sign-posts things to come.
And the strangeness fully arrives with James, a strange homage to James Earl Jones, or perhaps a band in joke, it doesn’t really matter, enigmatic is also on the list. Moving from haunted folk to alt-rock, it throws around some fleeting funky brass and then returns to the musical delicacy as if nothing has happened requiring the listener to suddenly ask “did I just imagine those strange interludes.” And that, perhaps more than anything explains the beautiful oddness that inherits the music. For the most part it is happy to follow dusty folk paths and gothic country routes but there is also a wonderful thread of musical lunacy that weaves its way through the otherwise gorgeous music. But it is these purposeful imperfections, these unique inclusions which give the music its own personality. Without them it is Lisa Hannigan, with them it is PJ Harvey making a folk album after a night on the red wine listening to her Kate Bush, Joni Mitchell and Tom Waits albums back to back.
The Belligerent North Star has to be a contender for my favourite album to come my way this year, and made all the sweeter by the fact that it was totally unexpected. A gorgeous blend of beguiling beauty and odd quirks, of vocal grace and disarming charm, of understatement and unexpected outbursts. If this album were a woman I’d propose to her right here, right now.