|5.0 out of 5 stars
A small masterpiece with great ambitions,14 Mar 2012
By matska (London United Kingdom)
Hollows for Sorrows is the second album from English artist Beck Goldsmith. It’s been quite a few years since her first, Purely Second Guesses, but it has very much been worth the wait. It was obvious from Purely Second Guesses that Goldsmith was an immensely gifted singer, songwriter and musician with a rare melodic talent, but who perhaps wasn’t quite sure yet what she wanted to say.
Her ear for a great melody is still very much in evidence here, but now it is in the service of an ambitious and complex musical vision which more than fulfils her enormous promise. If the first album was very much in the singer-songwriter tradition, this is something else entirely, marrying elements of folk, indie, prog, electronica and no-wave with other, more esoteric, textures and and timbres. The music on Hollows for Sorrows is almost a genre of its own: eerily fascinating, startlingly original and breathtakingly beautiful.
Goldmith is working with different musicians now, and it shows. Together with brilliant multi-instrumentalist Simon Davidson and the inventive, distinctive guitarist Jon Dix she has conjured up an album that sounds as if it is the work of a small orchestra. Moreover, between them they have produced a superb album: for a release on a small independent label the quality and depth of the sound is extraordinary.
What is constant between the two releases, of course, and what absolutely hold this album in its grip, is Goldsmith’s wonderful voice: by turns a rich, fierce, melancholic, tender, whispered, perilous, wild thing of great beauty and power. But while most of the songs here have, at their heart, a vocal-and-acoustic-guitar root, woven around them is a soundscape teeming with invention and life.
That sound is hard to describe: it is hyper-real, intense, distorted, dreamlike: a tree in a storm, scratching at your window as you sleep; shadows and ghosts, swaying in the ruins of a crumbling entrepot. Harmonies are sometimes dissonant and sour, sometimes sweet, smooth as milk; guitars echo, humming with decay and a kind of forlorn menace; textures bleed and bruise, ebb and flow; rhythms skitter, dance, skip and thunder. It is satisfyingly cinematic, epic in scale but yet deeply affecting and personal – as if the works of Emily Dickinson had somehow been filmed by Akira Kurosawa.
Some of its power, of course, comes from the tension between Goldsmith’s warm vocals – pitched somewhere between reflection, restraint and abandon – and the post-industrial melancholy of the music. But Goldsmith’s lyrics, too, are striking – poetic in the best sense – with something of the clarity of phrase and image you find in contemporary poets like Jen Hadfield.
Everyone will have different favourite songs, but for me the stand-out tracks are the closing two: the epic Few Steps Left, which builds over 8 minutes or so to a ferocious and thrilling climax; and the elegaic and wistful resignation of Cowering Point.
I’m half inclined to deduct a star for not including Waxwing, from the EP of the same name released a couple of years ago, which is the missing link between Goldsmith’s two albums and also one of my favourite songs of the last ten years. But that would be churlish. Hollows for Sorrows is a small masterpiece with a big heart and bigger ambitions. Buy it, and be happy.