Joe Volk’s CV is an impressive thing, taking in membership of Gonga and Crippled Black Phoenix as well as a split with Boris. As a solo artist, he has often worked with deep, dark folk sounds: some of that is here on Happenings and Killings, but we also have orchestral sweep and electronic action. Out on Glitterhouse.
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Joe Volk’s music has traversed the seasons and then cycled right back through them: he’s conjured up storms alongside Boris, made a plethora of guitar-abstracted heavy as Crippled Black Phoenix, and sometimes he’d get all stoned out with low end in Gonga. I once saw him lament a disengaged Brudenell crowd for not appreciating his solo progworks; maybe if they’d had the intimacy and emotive force of this record they’d have been all ears (give or take a few inane “Yorkshire!” chants) -- gotta love an appeal to feeling.
‘Happenings and Killings’ finds Volk in the truest of songwriter forms, making his softest and most vulnerable music. It begins on the ernest and fragile guitar strums of “Bampflyde Moore Carew” -- you know when picking sounds like steam rising from a pan? It’s that kind of quaint struggle, the piece eventually simmering into a euphoric arrangement of horns and synth. “Soliloquy” puts electronics to the fore, allowing them to intertwine with a simple guitar figure, and it sounds more than anything like emotive indie pop, as if he’s turned to the Jim Guthries and Aidan Knights of the world for council. Like Steve Wilson converting Porcupine Tree from prog to pop, this record has tracks that sound gorgeously melodic but with old-school spirits, such as “These Feathers Count”, whose staccato rhythms, haughty harmonies and mathy guitar pricks send Volk sky high once again.
It might be that I hadn’t heard enough of Volk, but this record takes me aback. It’s a personal document from an artist who always seemed faraway -- punishing or technical, but never making one to one contact. It’s good to hear the styles of Volk meeting for another purpose -- corny flute and Michio Kurihara-esque guitar might through “The Thief of Ideals”, but it feels homely, somehow. This is a lovely mirage of folklore and electronic, and what's best is that I really thought it'd sound like something else. Volk's quiet musings are a welcome surprise.
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