Calgary’s finest indie-folk/jazz outfit Raleigh have returned for a second round. Self-described as ‘prolk’ – prog folk – the threesome eschew standard songwriting techniques and methods in favour of a considerably more experimental approach, utilising the sprawling sonic fantasies of prog rock, jazz’s avante-garde hallmarks and the lackadaisical bumble of summery folk.
Fans of We Were Evergreen and My First Tooth are likely to find gems within the confines of Raleigh’s wonderfully titled Sun Grenades & Grenadine Skies, with its abundance of dude/lady vocal duets, off-kilter pop and reckless abandon for traditional folk setups. The record’s been out a while over the pond, but is only now getting a proper release in the UK. And a timely one too; it’s probably the first record of 2014 that can be deemed a ‘summer record’, a reminder that warmth and bucolic pastures await us in the not too distant future.
Helios opens the LP. In Greek mythology, Helios was the personification of the sun, so it’s pretty apt that this song sounds like it’s made from sand and sea and tiny little cocktail umbrellas. There’s the odd moment of Sin Fang-esque Scandi-pop brass and Jonsí-level epicness, but that doesn’t stop the track feel utterly content. Following swiftly on, Inside Lines echoes that atmosphere. It’s flecked with country, and perhaps not quite as ‘out-there’ as Helios, but it’s great nonetheless: there’s a cache of cello wonders, psychedelic guitars and clarinet warbles that all commingle into one explosive post-rock finalé. The tracks are representative of the album’s over-arcing structural style. While things may get kooky, they never detract from the core ideals of strong songwriting and tenable music; this isn’t some self-indulgent pet project intent on alienating, this is a collection of well-constructed ditties that happen to plunge into new territories. It’s the best of both worlds.
Still Light is a jittery, dawdling stroll, the kind of sunset cut that could soundtrack a night drive or trek home. China Flowers, strapped with chugging pop-rock axes and Yellowcard-y strings, is super mid-’00s sounding. It’s faintly scuzzy, hugely poppy and verges upon pop-punk. Ostinato is sugary and sublime, stuffed with pop hooks and acoustic riffs to rival Paolo Nutini.
It’s an excursion into the wilderness of several genres, flitting between a spray of seemingly disparate destinations with pep and glee. The album’s strongest facet is its organic aura: every twist and nonsensical turn is au naturel, stripped of plasticised beats and swathes of pedalboardica. Though electronics aren’t entirely absent, Raleigh manage to somehow make them feel as natural as the bark on trees. This all-encompassing tone is gorgeous for two main reasons – firstly, it’s a humanity and a tranquility in a time where the human race seems (again) to be on the brink of tearing itself asunder; secondly, it reminds us of frolicking in fey fens and gallivanting in glades. It’s a timely reminder that hope’s on the horizon, if not politically then at least meteorologically.