Since disbanding his post-folk project Appendix Out in 2001, Scottish troubadour Alasdair Roberts has made increasingly more traditional approaches to folk music. While his former band diffused arcane melodies through a haze of effects and psychedelic production, his solo work is largely unfiltered and organic, but still results in some wonderfully unexpected turns. The opener, “The Flyting of Grief and Joy (Eternal Return),” begins with a Medieval courtly air wrought from viol and harpsichord while Roberts intones a ballad of an epic battle of generations. Near the song’s mid-point the archaic instrumentation drops out and a loose electric guitar groove slips in for a country folk revival similar to Will Oldham. The stately air returns at the song’s close, book-ending the song’s aural time travel. It’s probably the best opening statement on a Roberts album since Farewell Sorrow’s title track.
“You Muses Assist” and “So Bored Was I (Dark Triad)” maintain the pastoral, unhurried jamming spirit of the opener, stretching out lazily in a number of different time signatures and arrangements from their roots. Unfortunately, “Unyoked Oxen Turn” takes this meandering template and doesn’t plot out much of a reward in either its wry lyric of a man who runs around trying to find his legs or the seemingly endless vocal round at the end of the song’s title.
The gorgeous closer “Under No Enchantment (But My Own)” brings things back into focus. It sees Roberts returning to a simple finger-picking arrangement on an acoustic guitar and a slow, droning bloom of instrumental heft to support his weary reflections.
It might not be quite as luminous a document as Appendix Out’s The Night is Advancing, but Spoils is another fine addition to Alasdair Roberts’ weird folk songbook.
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