Album Reviews

Half Cousin – Iodine

(Gronland) UK release date: 15 October 2007

Beats and accordion? Not a conventional combination by any means, but then the London-based Orcadian Kevin Mackey doesn’t do intentional convention in his music.

When Half Cousin came to the table with The Function Room back in 2004, their music took small elements of folk, pop and electronica, blending them into a truly individual whole with the evocative lyrics and home-spun recording techniques.

Iodine takes this process a step further by giving more emphasis to the beats, while retaining the slightly wistful songwriting qualities of the first album. And while Cormack may have moved away from Orkney, his musical and lyrical roots remain firmly entrenched on the island. Keenly felt tales are spun over the beats with closely woven acoustic guitars, the weather liable to change mid-song.

He’s a good tease though. The Absentee sounds like a song about to break out into a rounded hip hop rhythm, but instead turns into a dreamier piece of psychedelia over a quirky keyboard voice, clarinet trills and xylophone. Such is the musical climate within which Cormack and accomplice Jimmy Hogarth work, incorporating a wide range of shorter musical motifs, but crucially leaving them and the vocals with room to breathe.

Intimacy is something Cormack does well, and Abide sings to the listener as if they’re the only person in the room. Home Help is exquisitely dreamy. Police Torch, meanwhile, a song about a crofter on the run from the law, sounds like a wheezing steam train struggling to grind into action, the accordion taking the strain.

There’s a uniquely euphoric overtone to this music – the melodies soar unexpectedly, with Mackey’s fragile yet accomplished voice coming over a sudden yelp from the clarinet, a wheeze from the accordion or a jaunt from the strings. Rhythms, too, excite – often at cross purposes but part of the music’s off kilter appeal.

Mackey’s accent comes out fully in Rat Pack Dad, which delights in the simultaneous happenings of about ten musical instruments, while the singer tells of chip shop queues. You’re there with him, and it offers further proof that moving to London has not domesticated Cormack one jot.

Instead it seems to have galvanized him to evoke still more vivid images of the wild outdoors to bring to the relative comfort of your living room. Now to see what happens if he chooses to apply the same biographical techniques to London.

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More on Half Cousin
Half Cousin @ Luminaire, London
Half Cousin – Iodine
Interview: Half Cousin
Half Cousin – The Function Room