Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Fossil Scale

Perhaps it's just because I've lived in Wales for most of my life, but Week of Pines (Georgia Ruth's Welsh Music Prize-winning debut album, released in 2013) doesn't sound like anything so much as it sounds like home. Listening to Week of Pines is like putting on an old jumper that's so familiar it feels like hugging an old friend, and so well-worn you can stick your thumbs through the sleeves as if they were a pair of fingerless gloves.

pictured: me wearing my Week of Pines jumper

Conversely, Fossil Scale (Georgia Ruth's second album, released just last month) sounds like an album that's very far from home indeed. Week of Pines wasn't unadventurous by any stretch of the imagination, but its overall sound - harp strings, brushed drums, a purring electric guitar - felt very cosy and comfortable, whereas Fossil Scale is exploratory and experimental by comparison. The album covers a colourful range of genres, displaying an almost restless quality as it wanders from the funky Fossil Scale to the proggy climax of Grand Tour. Suhail Yusaf Khan’s sārangī playing lends a far-flung Eastern flavour to songs like The Doldrums and China, while new single Cloudbroke sounds like a track that was cut from some chillout compilation for sounding just a smidge too anxious about things.

Even when GR's signature instrument - the harp - is allowed to resume the spotlight for a little bit, the results still have a strange, slightly alien quality to them. Supermoon is probably the most harp-heavy track on Fossil Scale, and yet it sounds more like a lost Trwbador track than anything we heard on Week of Pines. That's by no means a bad thing - Trwbador were great, and I was very sad when they called it a day. But it all contributes to the feeling of being far, far, far from the welcoming fireplace whose warmth Georgia Ruth's first album evoked.

That feeling is supplemented by Fossil Scale's lyrics, which frequently return to the theme of being adrift in an unknown place. For the most part, the references to globetrotting seem fairly literal (there's a fucking *delicious* couplet in the title track that goes "I vaulted several seas / I brought the ocean to its knees), although The Doldrums uses being abroad as a metaphor for the kind of all-consuming love that strands you in the most wonderful way and causes the world outside your relationship to effectively melt from view.

"Maybe we'll drown here, love's an ocean after all...we'll slip under the blue yonder and dissolve like salt on the stones"

Throughout all of this, though, there's a sense that wandering the planet isn't what Georgia Ruth was made for, the sense that above all else she's just trying to get home. Grand Tour asserts that "wanderlust is just a refuge for the lonely"; Good Milk, the album's John Grant-esque penultimate track, speaks longingly of heading "home like a torn dove, home like a homing pigeon, home to the one you love"

And, as it happens, the glow of the home fire is visible on Fossil Scale as well. Keep swimming long enough and there - bobbing like a lifebuoy on this sea of change and uncertainty and endless wandering - is Sylvia, the album's ninth track, a cover of a song by Welsh folk hero Meic Stevens that sounds just as much like home, just as much like that well-worn jumper as any excerpt from Week of Pines. Perhaps it's because Sylvia is the only number on Fossil Scale that Georgia Ruth sings in Welsh, or perhaps it's because the arrangement is so much more stripped back than anything else on this CD, but whatever the reason, that Meic Stevens cover glows like a beacon on the new horizons that otherwise characterise this new LP. I don't speak Welsh, so I barely understand a word of Sylvia, and yet it remains probably the most emotive moment on the album for me, a nostalgic glimpse of the folky warmth and safety that GR largely left on Week of Pines when she set out to explore these fresh musical waters.

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