Review Summary: Damien, Damien. Your blind in both your arms. Will you still do your thing?
Shelsmusic is a label filled to the brim with many spectacular bands growing and becoming their own. Bands such as the late Mahumodo, Shels*, Black Sheep Wall, Latitudes, etc, you get it. The list goes on of young and developing bands just bursting with extreme amounts of talent. Another band to be included in this list is Sons of Noel and Adrian (now referred to as SONAA). A 10-piece folk band (some call it progressive folk, whatever), they all include members of what is called the Willkommen Collective, another tight knit group of bands, usually folk, that are centered in Brighton, England. With all the members knowing each other very well and obviously having played with each other before, it translates into the music with SONAA playing music extremely tight together.
SONAA is centered on two main members, Tom Cowan, son of Adrian; and Jacob Richardson, son of Noel. Flowing behind the two main guitar players is a huge cast of multi-instrumentalists, providing an extremely deep and emotional backdrop to the guitars. They add just about it all: cello, violins, trumpets, clarinets, flutes, piccolos, violas, just an extreme amount of instruments that help the build of the music. The music throughout is very dark, and their songs usually build up in the same fashion as a post-rock song would, but don’t get me wrong, they don’t sound like any post-rock band out there today. Tom is the main vocalist to be found throughout the entire album. He has a depressing voice, as it shakes and creaks through every nook and cranny of your ear. It’s a little hard to get into at first (maybe for you), but with a little bit of patience, it will become a part to the beauty of every song. The song’s have somewhat of a similar structure. From the beginning of what is usually a simple strumming of an acoustic guitar accompanied by Tom Cowan’s shaky voice. Upon minute to minute is an addition of another instrument, another layer, until it all builds up to a grandiose explosion of emotion and depression. Some other songs, such as the 9 and a half minute epic “Damien / Lessons From What’s Poor” start off with rather beautiful instrumentation at first, building up with vocals as a layer. “Damien / Lessons From What’s Poor” is a perfect example of the songs on this album.
Starting out with a plucked beautiful guitar line as trumpets lightly hum their own little tune, to another trumpet and flute playing its own separate line, to the violins joining in and giving in their own voice, it’s a beautiful sequence of instrumentation for 2 minutes. Then again, the violins jump in, getting louder and louder as they play their line. With each violin line, the guitars get slightly louder. The trumpets once again jump in, adding to the all the emotional outpour that each and every instrument can possibly pour. Tom’s shaky voice takes place, shaking your heart with a telling tale of a boy named Damien, a boy who seems to not have that much of talent, but wants to be something great. Not too long after that, a piano now trumps over the guitar, following the line of the violins earlier, it builds up gradually from each repetition of the line. You can feel it as it grows, the climax of the song is rising, and in any second it will be there. From the sudden banging of some tribal drums, to a violin playing an almost tear-jerking line, it builds, more and more. Damien, oh Damien, you’ll be destined for something great. The violins are joined by a flute, who play the same lines, and a dual vocal arrangement comes in, to a ukulele being picked quickly, to trumpets and suddenly, it ends. A beautiful male/female duet comes in. It’s Damien’s sister, who will follow her brother to protect him.
I take my lessons from what’s poor
That’s what God, what we’re looking for
Wealth is dead, for that I’m sure
Fare, fare, farewell
Every song follows its emotional path after that. The ending of the album is particularly beautiful. As everyone chimes in, the violins, the cello, every brass and woodwind, hell, even the tambourine reach their height of emotional outpour as the album ends out with an extreme bang just enough to let you sulk for a few more minutes after the album almost fizzles away. It’s haunting, overbearing and somehow, just somehow, inspirational. SONAA have crafted an epic debut album, soaked in atmosphere and emotion, a collection of dark, brooding folk songs sure to send some chill down your spine.