Thursday, 29 March 2012

The Female Thief

During my first listen to The Female Thief's debut album memories of landscapes rushed in to fill the wild space created by the vivid pulsing & tearing of their strings & voices. Mostly of moorlands, but also of bramble tangled alleyways, purple rivers buried under roads & the grey grounds of English churches.

There are shades of Bert Jansch, the chamber folk of A Silver Mt Zion circa 'Horses in the Sky', the fragile mysteries of Jason Molina's quaking hymns & the esoteric mountain-poetics of Phil Elverum's Mount Eerie. It's my hands-down favourite British folk record of the past few years. It has a love of the old songs but also finds some undiscovered cave walls to adorn with bloody handprints in shivering torchlight. It's got a spine chilling weight & the painful romance & freedom of heart that brings the spirit of Dick Gaughan to mind. It burns like the sun escaping the firewood.

Their songs are formed of the spanish guitar & words of David Hobbs & the cello & contrebasse of Jack Kindred-Boothby. They recorded the album in Jack's adopted home of Anglesey, & the unique & unforgiving lament of the celtic west coast beats deep in this record, but the sun shines also. They are linked to the alternately bleak & whimsical power of Alasdair Roberts' 'No Earthly Man', partly by their inclusion of a heavy rendition of the traditional 'Lyke Wake Dirge' (which also appears on Roberts' classic), but also in the spirit of Hobbs' nimble picking & untethered lyrics. His words consistently surprise in their ability to leap from open-hearted, simple, everyday sincerity to mystical abstraction & back again, giving neither state preference nor authority. His guitar playing is remarkable, flickering & flourishing & settling into kaleidoscopic folk grooves, giving the nylon strings the voices of every season.

When Jack joins in, his warm & sun-cracked voice entwines with David's to evoke the visceral power of A Silver Mt Zion's rallying choirs, whilst his double bass & cello move from heavy rhythmic swells to eerie scraping spells that are patiently integrated with the spirit of the songs & their words. His contribution is earthen & devotional, a primal & sensual presence that draws out the same qualities in the seemingly cerebral invocations of David, & highlighted alone on the wordless breath-song that closes the album.

Nothing on this record is over or under done. In many ways it is austere, with little additional instrumentation, but in every song a new turn appears, they switch gears & I get a huge rush of spirit and a painful desire for life & cliffs & hidden coves. The songs move like starlings & jackdaws, & to trip with them is a rare wonder.

Download or stream it free here, or contact them to buy the cd for £5.

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