You’d think given the number of places I track music and the number of things I have given permission to spam me with music information that something would have mentioned that The Unthanks had a new album coming out, or that they would be performing just up the road this Wednesday. But no, nothing did, so I don’t have an actual physical backup disk of the album yet (AKA a CD) nor will I likely make the gig because I’ll be on my way back from GoOpen in Oslo.
All the same, I have listened to it for as long as is possible today (before it was able to start to induce too much depression, as Unthanks albums tend to) and I must say I really like it. Assuming that’s the right word to use for an album that starts strongly in all senses with a funeral dirge for a child and goes down from there, making even Peter Gabriel’s “Up” seem cheery. Thanks to the wonder that is mflow, I’ve been able to stream the whole album without adverts and bathe in the glorious darkness which is Last.
If you want to do the same and are in the UK (the only place mflow works), first sign up from this link (which will give both you and me £1 of credit to spend) and then go listen on this link. Since I like to have a backup of my MP3s, I tend to buy the CD if it’s not too much more than the digital album; hopefully it’s winging its way from Amazon already (if you’re in the US you’ll need to pre-order as it’s not released yet).
Ever more self-assured and accomplished, this is an album of raw beauty, delivering uniquely modern yet still traditional folk music with both lyrical and melodic clarity. It also has a variety of pace and tonal texture that means it makes good, varied listening – albeit without any clog-dance percussion this time. On early listening I especially like the two longer tracks – Last and Close The Coalhouse Door.
The title track Last explores the loneliness of singleness, and is written by Rachel’s partner Adrian McNally. Coalhouse Door reflects on the human cost of mining and considers coal as clots of dried blood. Holy Moly sums it up well:
This is a truly miserable record; a three-hankie affair. Listening to ‘Last’ for the first time in the less than ideal environment of Glasgow airport we snivelled at the title track with its desolate future view and plea for human interaction, bit our lip throughout the traditional lament ‘My Laddie Sits Ower Late Up’ and lost it completely during their extraordinary reading of Alex Glasgow‘s ‘Close The Coalhouse Door’ (written about the death toll of North East miners, and the Aberfan disaster). Rarely is the North depicted so sadly and yet so beautifully.
If you too are a fan of “three-hankie folk” then this is a must-try. Just make sure you have cleared away everything sharp and grabbed the tissues first.