The Wyrd Meme
It must have been sometime in the mid-’00s that the title “singer/songwriter” became synonymous with the hacky, be-stubbled men of whine-rock. To attach such a pejorative to Alasdair Roberts would be doing him a great disservice; the man is a troubadour in the purest and oldest sense of the word.
Roberts has spent the last decade honing a voice in English folk that’s run the gamut between mythic slowcore in Appendix Out — his first recording moniker — and his self-penned ballads that feel centuries old. Earlier this year Roberts released Spoils, a record full of instrumental arrangements and orchestrated clangor. With The Wyrd Meme he draws the scope of his sound back a bit. Most the music here is acoustic guitar, its strings plucked classically. Roberts weaves a very rich layer of melody on his own especially considering how mutable he views his six-string — on the opening track “The Hallucinator and the King of the Silver Ship of Time,” he retunes the low E string down and back up again to give the song’s middle verse an entirely different emotional charge. Elsewhere, when Roberts slips in contemporary musical flourishes, as with the electronic fog clouding over “The Yarn Unraveller” and the herky-jerky ominous electric guitar lead which burst out during the Lovecraftian Ouroubouros attack in “The Royal Road at the World’s End,” he does it with subtlety that adds to the surreality of his compositions. It’s not a perfect analogue yet, but Alasdair Roberts has been heading down the same weird pastoral paths Van Morrison trekked on Astral Weeks. In 2009 that’s a fine place to be for a fantasy folklorist.
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