Sons Of Noel & Adrian is another offshoot of Brighton’s burgeoning experimental folk scene and their excellent self-titled debut album (which has been available since the start of last year) finally gains a mainstream release courtesy of the Shelsmusic label.
SONAA revolves around two key musicians, singer-songwriters Tom Cowan and Jacob Richardson. In support is a sprawling cast of multi-instrumentalists adding strings, brass and woodwind to help build an impressive musical tour de force.
The way each song on this album builds from a simple acoustic beginning to a sweeping soundscape is actually more in keeping with the post-rock genre than the folk idiom, but at heart this is folk music as the purity of melody and the stark expressiveness of the lyrics attest.
The clearly picked acoustic guitar of the opening Indigo sets the mood of the album. Nick Drake this isn’t though, as the harsh introduction of Jacob Richardson’s vocals prove. His shaky voice takes a lot of getting used to, but gradually it becomes an essential part of the overall sound.
The structure of Indigo sets the blueprint for the rest of the album, with the stark acoustic opening giving way to a gradual layering of instruments that reaches its apex with a beautiful brass passage at the end.
The biting modernity of this album is hammered home on Kernow, which opens with the line “Sometimes I feel alien to this world and its maker”. Cowan’s whispered vocals are perfectly in keeping with the mood of the song.
The lengthy Damien. Lessons From What’s Poor is a tour de force at nearly 10 minutes in length. The plucked guitar opening segues into a sequence that layers on brass and strings before, at three minutes in, the haltering vocal line provides a sudden shock of reality. Another instrumental break introduces a piano into the mix, and as the song builds to a climax a female voice provides a helping hand to guide the protagonist safely through life’s choppy waters.
The album sails into a calmer port after this epic voyage, with Cave and Ragwort opting for a simple vocal/guitar/string arrangement to punch its message home.
Ragwort distorts the calm with an abrasive middle section, leading naturally into the brooding emotional drama of Divorce, a song that on first spin is too painfully taut to listen to without seeking out the security of the skip button.
Violent Violet and The Wreck Is Not A Boat are delightfully atmospheric modern-day sea shanties, the latter even managing to incorporate some tuneful whistling into the mix.
The closing Inside Olympia brings this album to a stunning close, marrying a simple structure with sweeping harmony vocals and that gradual layering of instruments that Sons Of Noel & Adrian do so well.
Although it is reminiscent of early Will Oldham at times, this album quickly establishes a unique sound that rewards repeated listens. Write it off as folk music at your peril.