Shipwrecks & Static is the début solo album from Inge Thomson, who is likely to be familiar to many as part of the creative force behind Scottish four-piece Harem Scarem, and familiar to many more as part of Karine Polwart's band, where her musical resourcefulness and incomparably beautiful harmony vocals prove as big a draw as Polwart herself. Inge hails from the Shetland Islands' Fair Isle, and with her roots firmly embedded in such a remote island community, it is hardly surprising that Inge should create an album that is heavily influenced by the nature and geography that dominates such a community.
Bringing together a myriad of familiar instruments from the typical folk-musicians arsenal, Inge turns her back on convention and explores the far and unfamiliar reaches of their sonic capabilities, marrying them with sounds that may be less familiar to the folk genre, and displaying an admirable ingenuity in doing so. A thread of "pings, tings, glitches and nonsense" (Inge's words!) permeates the music, placed with a canny intuition and often lending a quirky character. There is a beguiling disjointedness about the melodies, with the various sound segments held together in arrangements that offer commodious breadth and depth. Shipwrecks & Static certainly rewards the patient and inquisitive listener, with potential for each visit to whisk you off to a different plane of sound. This really feels like three-dimensional music with a physical presence that you can almost visualise; it's like you could walk around in it.
The deliciously mesmerising "Cycle" incorporates a repetitively seductive mantra that adds to the cyclical nature of the piece, augmented by similarly oscillating melodies on banjo and accordion, that weave in and out of the ethereal soundscape. There's some fun to be found on the mischievous-sounding opening track, "John," with a playful accordion arrangement and lyrics that seem to tell the story of an enthusiastically sociable character: "get us home before we're to anaesthetised to think." Both have discernibly different personalities, yet carry the same sound DNA that permeates Shipwrecks & Static. "Where Do I Sign?" wryly recalls the early days of a relationship giving way to the realisation of something more enduring, whilst "Cradle Song," a Louis MacNeice poem set to music by Tim Dalling, provides an evocative narrative, matched to a suitably spellbinding arrangement.
There is a conversational structure to the more conventional "How Far?," a beguiling duet with Rory Campbell, where a sparse arrangement allows the understated beauty of the lovelorn lyrics to really capture your imagination. This is a story that could apply to two lovers, or a family awaiting the return of their seafaring loved ones, or just the community spirit of a people whose lives are bound by the uncertainty that the sea can behold. It's a song that is clever in both its simplicity, and its universal application to love, loss and longing.
With Shipwrecks & Static, Inge has created a piece of work that can boast genuine originality; it's an atmospheric collection of music that succeeds in being both challenging and utterly absorbing.
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