Last year’s Back Into The Woods was one of 2013’s more pleasant surprises, a gloriously warm collection of songs from one of the country’s most under-rated songwriters, recorded in just six hours at Abbey Road Studios. It was Ed Harcourt‘s first album in three years, and he’s obviously going through a bit of a purple patch.
Time Of Dust arrives just 11 months after Back Into The Woods, and is, in effect, a mini-album or EP. At just six tracks long and with 28 minutes’ running time, Harcourt has described it as a bridge between his last record and his next one, which is being recorded with legendary producer Flood. The results show off a wider musical palette than Back Into The Woods did, highlighting a darker, less frail atmosphere.
As Harcourt says, Time Of Dust really does feel like a ‘bridge’ – opening track Come Into My Dreamland is, like the previous album, an austere, stark piano ballad but the album soon develops into something more substantial, with the title track heralding a more widescreen approach. As ever with Harcourt, the lyrics grab the attention but the music is arranged in such an intriguing manner that it take a while for the subtleties to truly come through – a duet with Kathryn Williams (Harcourt appeared on several tracks on her Crown Electric album) is a powerfully strange ballad. Williams, in her usual understated way, sheds a delicate light on Harcourt’s shade as he rails against politicians of all hues.
Harcourt’s probably been long since resigned to being a cult figure, and there’s not much on Time Of Dust that will change that. The Saddest Orchestra (In The World) has a powerful, driving chorus, but the best moments are the stranger ones – the off-kilter beats of the menacing We All Went Down With The Ship or the sad, resigned atmosphere of the closing track Love Is A Minor Key.
It doesn’t quite hang together in the way that an official Harcourt album does, acting instead as a kind of taster for things to come. Yet as aperitifs go, it’s pretty satisfying.