Part catharsis, confession, panacea, exhumation and confrontation, these are mantras for healing, hurting and helping
Over three glacially-produced albums, Kathryn Joseph has woven a web of gothic, piano-driven songs dealing with some heavy subjects (failed relationships, infant death and betrayal) while maintaining a beautifully critical eye and ear for the delicate steps between despair and desires.
Where her 2015 debut (Bones You Have Thrown Me And Blood You Have Spilled) centred on the sometimes austere setting of voice and piano, and 2018’s follow-up (From When I Wake The Want Is) ushered in percussive elements, here instrumentation is sparse, with electronic undulations couching the songs in a soft and sometimes prickly beds. This is in no small part to the sympathetic co-production with Lomond Campbell that allows the 2020-era demos to retain their rawness while fashioning an intimate sound world.
The whispered, intoned intimacy of opener what is keeping you alive makes me want to kill them for lulls you into a warm bed of deceptively simple electric piano and xylophone before building to hushed menace, like a cooing Kate Bush with a hammer behind her back.
Kathryn Joseph calls to mind the lyric from Australian group The Apartments‘ Mr Somewhere, where “the hardest words (are) so softly spoken” as she packs a deft punch in the gentlest of ways. Sparse and spacious vocals shimmer like a heat haze of emotion before the weight of words, and their meaning, come crashing down from the endured (“the damage is done, you have survived” – of all the broken) to the vitriolic (“I will suck the poison out, and spit it back into (..) their mouths” – flesh and blood).
Presented as song cycle, for you who are the wronged’s themes around abusers, the abused (and their fierce protection) lends a sombre air to proceedings. Despite this, there is warmth here. All the tracks are based around similar minimalistic backings, which unify the album in its intimate thrum and pulsations from piano (treated, electric or otherwise) in backgrounds of muted skittering and burbling of subdued electronic beats.
Part catharsis, confession, panacea, exhumation and confrontation, these are mantras for healing, hurting and helping. Their elliptical nature leaves room for interpretation, and offers a way in for those who may be suffering unawares, without losing any of the passion behind their delivery.
For an album so deeply enmeshed in the primal and elemental Joseph intimates on pulsating closer long gone that she is “wind and snow” as glacial chords slide and melt together in collusion, building to the conclusion of an album of some quiet emotional heft. This is no accidental incident.
for you who are the wronged speaks from the primal core to soothe flashes of heightened states. Tags of being ‘gothic’, ‘dramatic’ or ‘monochromatic’ may still apply, but there is depth to these ruminations on what it is to be all too painfully human.
Sharing the same twilight world lineage of spook as Beth Gibbons, Joanna Newsom, Keeley Forsyth and Nico, all the way back to Billie Holliday, Kathryn Joseph’s vocal nuances may take some tuning into, but once locked in, it’s hard to switch channels.