'Grackle' is the newest record from Ruby Fray, a songwriter who tells dark stories by the way of sweet Americana melodies. Following up on 'Pith', this record continues to showcase Fray's brand of soft but equally unsettling indie folk, but also utilities left-field tactics, bringing in trip-hop style rhythms on "It's Mine" and honest-to-god beats on "Barbara". Like all good Americana-tinged records, there is a reprise.
LP £7.75 KLP251LP
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CD £11.99 KLP251CD
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It's a pretty hard lot in life to be an artist on K Records called Emily Beanblossom -- that surname is the kind you'd give to an indie pop Pokemon -- but under her new alias, Ruby Fray is on a mission to Escape From Twee Pop Castle. Doing away with the expectations of her usually quite silly label, 'Grackle' is built on dark tones and sparse textures that lethargically interlock; it's self-serious and dead-faced, centred around her huge, commanding vocals and cinematic electronic arrangements that recall the twilit prowls of Chromatics and Cocteau Twins. Beanblossom calls it "witchy chamber folk", which is surprisingly accurate: this music is full of a very baroque kind of tension, like being trapped in an old Victorian house and not knowing which way to turn. The sharp keys of "Carry Me Down" are suffocating, and the suspense is only replaced with more suspense: monolithic drums rise out of the floor, meeting Beanblossom's unwavering voice for one of the year's strongest, most deliciously horrifying musical climaxes.
There are moments on 'Grackle' where Fray attempts to replicate the darkness by different means, and the record soon becomes a more rock 'n' roll affair: "Photograph + Vespers" is arranged around bawling garage rock guitars and shimmering effects which feel more Wytches than witch folk. On these tunes, it feels hard to grasp at the intricate work Fray has done in the arrangement department, because her voice is so overwhelming, cast over the action like a thick impenetrable fog. Though it often manages to latch onto a fixed groove, like the bass on "Grackle" and "Barbara", 'Grackle' lacks clarity, mainly leaving behind the wordless singing Beanblossom does best. On "Barbara", it's obvious that Beanblossom has a compelling and versatile voice --one that can sound soft and eerie or harsh as the wind -- but hasn't found the right ideas for it. For K Records, this is a serious work, but like Beat Happening, it's mostly sonorous.
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