There’s a great tradition over many decades of folk bands stretching the boundaries to take the genre into uncharted territories, sometimes magnificently so and on other occasions patchily successful. To the former category you can add the latest album from East Anglia based trio Keltrix.
The band currently comprise singer/songwriter Keri Kel, violinist/producer Sharon Jayne Sullivan and DJ Rose Wood, all hailing from the north west but currently Cambridge based. Keri and Sharon first crossed paths in the 90’s at dance club nights through a shared love of the music being played. This was several years before Keri first formed the alt folk band Keltrix which Sharon later joined. There was a modicum of success over the next few releases before the Between Storms/Beyond Storms release which proved to be the crossroads at which the band would move to the more electronic and beats focussed sound that is prevalent on this release. Where this perhaps differs from other albums pushing the envelope of folk into other territories is the background of the musicians involved. Where others may have started from the folk perspective and taken it into other areas by adding instrumentation and beats from other musical forms, band members here had a love of trip hop and rave music prior to the forage into folk music. Add in that Sharon had been playing violin since the age of about 4 and you have the heady mix that is presented in the tracks on ‘Bobby Says’.
Two of the constants brought over from previous releases are the song writing and voice of Keri. Her voice has some of the vocal inflections of Stevie Nicks but with less of the gypsy woman and more of the intensity and attitude of a Patti Smith. The acoustic guitar is pretty much mothballed and replaced with an array of beats and synth sounds ranging from 80’s electro pop to techno and big beat. The third constant is the wonderful violin playing, at times soaring and spiralling beautifully as on Sea Song or on occasions complimenting and synchronising with the synth sounds as illustrated perfectly on the lovely Lilacs in the Snow. The former has plenty of nautical references, the shipwreck being spoken of perhaps being an allegorical reference to a floundering relationship? The latter is quite haunting, at times the keyboards remind this listener of ‘Tin Drum’ era Japan.
A rather militaristic beat heralds opening track ‘Butter’, with a defiant violin and vocal, the whole conjuring an image of Boudica emerging from the mists of the fens and marching to defy the Roman army, though this is perhaps just as relevant in the current political climate. ‘Great Leader’ features some nice harmonies which balance the more aggressive beats being deployed, along with some scat type singing from Keri. Early 80’s synth pop sounds (think Blancmange, early Depeche Mode, even Grace Jones) are a feature of ‘Rushing’ with the rhythm track gradually building momentum before imploding on itself, while ‘Hide’ has an urgent, throbbing pulse and careering violin to back up a full on vocal.
Final track ‘Signs’ opens with something akin to an air raid siren, a violin and beat that is darkly foreboding and Keri singing of ‘generations’ and ‘honesty- what’s that’ before warning in increasingly frantic robotic tones ‘do not fail’ and eventually fading with the return of that air raid siren.
The album succeeds magnificently in its attempts to pull together several strands and in doing so create a sound that, if not unique is certainly rare, engaging and very rewarding.
The album is released digitally worldwide on March 17th. CD’s are available via the bands facebook page or at gigs.