Monday, February 13, 2012


Rob St John is one quarter of Edinburgh’s anti-drum core (but wavering) post-folk ensemble eagleowl. But his own music is a very different strain of alt-folk to that of the full group. “Weald”, his debut album for Song By Toad Records, is eight songs of darkly atmospheric and steady-paced freak-folk exploring the “imagined contour between the bleak Lancastrian moors and the cobbled wynds of Edinburgh”. Like David Thomas Broughton fronting Mount Eerie or Alexander Tucker conducting a psycho-geographical field study.

Songs vary from 2.5 minutes to over 7 minutes but all conform to a similar pattern: opening with roving, liquid golden electric guitar notes, gently droning harmonium and St John’s deep booming voice before adding in denser layers of sound and instruments – bowed saw in ‘Vanishing Points’, haunted, distant piano in ‘An Empty House’, violin in ‘Stainforth Force’ and even underwater hydrophone in the same song. Picking out individual instruments doesn’t convey the combined effect of layered textures that swell and contract, making the album sound cavernous despite a lingering intimacy.

Throughout Rob St John’s voice is peculiarly astonishing: blunt Lancastrian tones that spill and surprise and waver like his guitar, sometimes a deep bottomless pit boom as forceful as granite, other times a darkly forgiving sigh. It’s a voice that speaks of years of experience ruminating on eternal mysteries – extraordinary then that Rob St John is in his early twenties. The graceful beauty of the seven-minute ‘Stainforth Force’ is the epic midpoint of the album (or opener of side two if you buy the vinyl) but ‘Domino’ that follows usurps its centrality by notching up the intensity with a bleak prison-irons clanking tale of guilt, cross words and cold beds. It’s so anguished and intense, ‘Emma’s Dance’ the sprightly Bert Jansch-like instrumental that follows is blessed relief. “Weald” is an album rich with a thick, marshy atmosphere but proves a rewarding and uplifting journey. The record came out last November and I paid it scant attention until earlier this year. What a terrible disservice to an exceptional recording.

Rob St. John - Sargasso Sea by Song, by Toad

Rob St John Weald [BUY]

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