It’s like David Edwards has been away for ages, isn’t it? Four years is a hell of a gap between albums, especially by modern standards, but Edwards has been keeping himself busy; technically, it’s only been two years since his last album – the Minotaur Shock nom-de-plume has just been dormant for a while. He released an album as Principal Participant back in 2010, and on the strength of Orchard, the proper follow-up to Amateur Dramatics, it’s little wonder he had his bit on the side. He needed to keep the creative juices flowing, after all; how else would he have come up with an album as inventive as this?
His latest album is the one on which he finally embraces something he has shied away from for more than a decade: folktronica. Despite being pigeonholed like this, Edwards has always striven not to be put in a box, and even if he’s welcomed organic instruments into his music with open arms (as the dizzying, multi-part, epic opener Janet – which is all of nine minutes long – demonstrates so wonderfully), those of you who think he’s also tried something a little more conventional this time around would be sorely mistaken. Sure, Too Big To Quit is influenced by Irish traditional music, and its song structure – an AABB form – is faithful to the song’s roots, meaning that it does what needs to be done in a shade over two minutes, but elsewhere, the album revels in its gleeful unpredictability.
None of this ever comes at the cost of accessibility, though; while the songs that make up the album are quite far removed from pop music or anything of the sort, there are enough vibrant hooks and soaring melodies to keep even the most impatient of listeners captivated. The album reaches an early peak on the curiously-titled Through The Pupils Of Goats, which mixes metronomic rhythms with classical guitars and meditative keyboard passages, opening out as it swaggers toward the three-minute mark, into an uplifting and infectious – yet no less atmospheric – triumph. The song also acts as a perfect indicator of the album’s intricate nature – Edwards doesn’t fixate on melodies; he instead keeps them moving along, letting them go where they need to. It never sounds unnatural or forced: even when Ocean Swell’s tempo is fluctuating, the song held together by a ’90s rave beat, its jagged structure helps it to realise its full potential.
Orchard doesn’t demand the listener’s attention; such a forceful move wouldn’t be its style. If anything, it’s quite a playful album; lead single Saundersfoot and the percussive blast of Quint could only really come from the mind of a musician who’s having a lot of fun; so much, in fact, that he feels the need to put as much into them as possible, as the fragmented yet confident Lending Library shows, careering all over the place with gleeful abandon. Neither does Edwards’s latest feel, at any point, like it’s a case of too many cooks spoiling the broth. It’s more like a wholesome stew than anything else: tasty, filling, and well able to entice the listener back for a second helping. Bon appetit.