Review Summary: A splendid journey into the self-explanatory rhelmes of "dark folk."
2012 has, by this writer's estimation at least, been a bit slow out of the blocks, but one thing that can't be argued with is that folk music has gotten off to a flyer. This week has seen the release of Swedish sisters First Aid Kit's stunning sophomore The Lion's Roar
to virtually universal acclaim, and although it's passed somewhat under-the-radar by comparison, the same could be said of the new album from Bristol singer-songwriter Matt Elliott. I'll be honest, I don't profess to have much (if any) in depth knowledge regarding Elliott's expansive discography, nor that of The Third Eye Foundation, the electronic project that he was formerly involved in. I could fake omniscience, but I'd be made to look like a fool by someone who actually does know their stuff, so this review is very much from an outsider's point of view. What I can make clear, however, is that on The Broken Man
his brand of "dark folk" works a treat, and makes for a record that's constantly rewarding and occasionally spellbinding.
There's not really any point in discussing the ins and outs of Elliott's sound, because at the end of the day that dubious genre - "dark folk" paints a clearer picture than any overly elaborate explanation. In simple terms, it's how you'd imagine Pink Moon
-era Nick Drake would sound, had be possessed a baritone and incorporated some of the psychedelic wanderings and Gothic overtones of Mark Lanegan. Sparse and cold, yet deep and beautiful, it's a record which revolves overwhelmingly around the singer's voice, and despite it's initial blankness there are moments when it can prove utterly spine-tingling. Nine-minute highlight 'Dust Flesh And Bone, for instance, carries with it a real sense of sorrow, with Elliott's wistful mourns of "this is how it feels to be alone
" providing a staggering emotional punch that's genuinely unsettling. Such an extended run-time may seem a little much, but it's never less than captivating, and even so is far from being the most sprawling track here. 'If Anyone Tells Me' clocks in at thirteen minutes, with opener 'Oh How We Feel' not far behind at twelve, and it comes as no surprise that these cuts stand as the record's unmistakable centerpieces, with most of the other tracks seemingly concieved to fit around them.
This gives rise to a seamless sense of cohesion throughout - an improbable feat given that many of these songs seem to lack a recognisable structure. Indeed this complaint could be viewed as The Broken Man
's primary weakness, but truthfully it pales into insignificance when moulded the record's perennial intensity and unlikely flow, two features which reign supreme from the off. How does it compare to the rest of Elliott's works? I obviously couldn't tell you, but if nothing else it's convinced me to delve into his back catalogue in search of further delights. For now, though, this thoroughly excellent record is more than enough to get by with, and although it's one that requires a certain frame of mind to enjoy it'll no doubt find itself on my playlist for the rest of 2012, and potentially beyond.