Review Summary: Smooth folk like a more confident Nick Drake.
The album cover of Vultures
seems to paint a tranquil scene in the woods. Two people are having a picnic as all the birds in the trees watch them and let them be. Look closer. The birds are headless, and the picnickers have intestines and guts in their hands. Notice the creepy art style as well; this is the perfect promotional poster for the next Tim Burton film. This is not Tim Burton, however, and this is not a Danny Elfman soundtrack. Instead, we have the debut album from quiet, humble folk artist Paul Marshall.
The first impression of Paul Marshall feels much the same as the first impression of the album cover. His music seems quaint, simple, and peaceful. Armed with just an acoustic guitar, the occasional cello and other instruments, and his tuneful voice, his complexity or sheer volume will not impress anyone here. Nor will any sort of emotional, cathartic releases stun his listeners. Throughout the album, Marshall remains calm, cool, and collected. It is this calm smoothness that Marshall holds above all his contemporaries. The impressive guitar pattern in “Place on the Map” eases along throughout the song as if it were a basic warm-up. Where Damien Rice would sacrifice vocal quality to belt out the climax of his prose, Marshall simply lets his words and melodies speak. “Place on the Map” reaches its subtle climax when he sings “I’m running out of time” repeatedly, but it goes by quickly for those not paying attention. “Spectres”, the longest song on the album, brews in a calming wave of dainty bells and a simple guitar progression. His voice sounds like a Nick Drake who wants his stories told. Paul Marshall could cover anything on Pink Moon, but he will not be playing to a corner of the room. He will play to his audience.
Still, there are some unsettling moments, as foreshadowed by the strong rattling of the low E string in opening instrumental “Välkommen.” Throughout the album, the details add new depth that most folk artists cannot brag about. Whether it comes out through the subtle dissonant chords that weave in and out of his guitar patterns, or simply brilliant yet disconcerting lyrics like “Vultures can’t hold pens; still, they write/But their gaze is like a knife turning in my spine” or “I am the cloud who couldn’t hold his sky.” Sometimes he writes lyrics that are not so graphic but just perfectly composed, like “They put Darwin’s thoughts in my head/Now I can’t wait for them to evolve/And maybe learn to talk.” Overall, the album’s lyrical brilliance surpasses even the musicality, simply because Marshall’s lyrics are so original while his music has all been done before. Still, he performs this brand of folk with the legends of the genre. Most times, he utilizes arpeggiated guitar patterns and executes perfectly. His right hand guitar skills are nearly unparalleled in the genre. On “Sea Full of Trains” and “Alvsbyn”, he creates climaxes by strumming full chords instead.
goes by quickly, less than 40 minutes that flow perfectly together. Marshall performs each song brilliantly, although his compositional skills falter on “Alcatraz.” It goes nowhere and the lyrics are average for Marshall’s caliber. However, this is still one of the best debut albums of the year, a smooth folk release that shows off Paul Marshall’s vocal, lyrical, and guitar playing talents.