Some artists look to produce work that see them firmly boxed-up and categorised, making it easier for them to pitch their wares and gain a share of a target audience. Then, there are the likes of Wenonoah, who take you on such an extraordinary journey that they are unable to be tucked away in a relative compartment, rather looking to stand alone, far away from the madding crowd.
While there are moments when a commercial side to her sound peeks above the parapet, for the most part it swings between acapella, minimal instrumentation and old-world-sounding tales that may even herald a folk nouveau scene.
‘Hinges’ opens the door to this album with intent as Wenonoah’s quiet and fractured voice, alone and unaccompanied, spins a sad lament of a broken woman whose relationship is slipping through her fingers. A scene is conjured where the enormity of what the protagonist’s future holds may be on the verge of breaking her before she even has time to take control of the situation. The lone voice makes every word meaningful, allowing it to carry a weight that would have drowned under instrumentation.
Once the stark whooshes that usher in ‘Run’ have died, Wenonoah’s forlorn voice gives a feeling that life hasn’t turned for the better as yet. Despite this, the stripped-back keys-led backing brings a more uplifting feel to proceedings as it tries to pull her voice from the floor, no matter how heavy it becomes.
The ascending three-note keyboard hook helps drive ‘Streetwalker’ through a series of pad interjections that wouldn’t sound lost on ‘Amnesiac’-era Radiohead. The vocals are now approaching a positivity that tentatively hints at an upturn, leading us well to ‘Something I Ate’s lead single…
“Don’t be so eager to reveal yourself”, instructs Wenonoah on ‘Hide’, apt considering the album so far, and with a construction that could even take her insular sound overground. The desolation of the opening tracks has been washed away by an insistent plod that, while parts rise and fall, sounds far more joyous. Although this may feel like a sweet end to a tortured story, the album yet to come takes a sharp left-turn, disappearing down a rocky path toward laid-bare folk tales.
Principally spoken word track, ‘The Easter Tree’, is such a departure that Wenonoah’s voice is, at first, the only connection to that which has preceded it. Telling the story of a tree’s life, including the suicide of one desperate man, it breaks ultimately into pagan-inspired melodies that carry her near-unaccompanied vocals toward an almost medieval ending.
Like this album hadn’t brought enough surprises, ‘Pleural’ arrives with sounds of the sea crashing against craggy rocks, as the weather seemingly takes a turn for the worse. The feeling here is that of a re-told Cornish folklore, speaking of love and rooting Wenonoah, at least with one foot, in amongst a wider circle of more traditional folk artists.
Notable ‘Matilda’ line, “People don’t think you’re up to much because you’re small, but I know if height was measured in balls, you’d be 100 feet tall” could well sum this collection of songs up in a sentence. It is clear there’s a lot going on in the mind of Wenonoah, especially as the plinky-plonk of a piano remains barely audible over her wailing and foraging for answers. Final three, ‘Anatomy’, ‘Septic Union’ and ‘Danse’, all follow a stark path to the end of the world until, with some relief, you realise you’ve made it without falling in to the darkness she paints so well. On this release it’s clear that Wenonoah will not be pigeon-holed and, if her Howling Owl re-release gains the success that her deep-set individuality likely deserves, then she could well be a force to be reckoned with.
Check out ‘Hide’ right here: