Monday 25 March 2013

The Self Help Group - Not Waving, But Drowning

Album review by

There should be at least some form of conflict between the traditional and the contemporary, as they are to a certain extent opposites, unless the tradition has never changed. In folk music there is indeed a distinct difference between the traditional and the contemporary. We can all name certain current bands producing a modern form of music that has its roots in folk, they've been inescapable these past few years. Is the "real" folk world's reaction to this one of joy that this branch of music is, one way or another, getting publicity? Or is it disgust that these sounds have been hijacked by what are essentially pop groups in disguise.

We can't tell you where Brighton quintet The Self Help Group stand on this matter, but we can tell you that they've made an album that is both contemporary and traditional at the same time. You won't find these songs on Ikea adverts, you won't find them on Radio 1, you'll be lucky to find them on Radio 2 outside of the specialist shows. As well as taking these time-honoured sounds and instruments and making a modern sounding album, they also transcend locations. There is a rich tradition of Celtic folk in the UK and there is a rich tradition of country-tinged folk in the US (the band cite the Laurel Canyon scene as an influence) and 'Not Waving, But Drowning' sits somewhere in the middle of all of this.

Folk in its various guises is often about storytelling and that is evident here. 'Needles' is the tale of a Nazi POW stitching anti-Hitler messages into Nazi tapestries, 'The Rapture' is about a US student who drowned whilst celebrating Harold Camping's incorrect Doomsday prophecy. There are many more interesting, unusual and sometime humorous tales to be found if you listen to the lyrics. Musically the album is reasonably one-paced but expertly realized; the mix in particular seems to be spot on. This feels like a very warm album, like wrapping yourself is a soft blanket of music, one that's familiar in its styles but not afraid to throw in a sample or change tack slightly as on 'Kings'. The Self Help Group have found a middle-ground, but with the talent they have it turns out that the middle-ground isn't such a bad place to be after all.

The Self Help Group's website

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