Folk music as a genre is growing hugely in popularity, driven forwards by high profile artists like Mumford and Sons and fast becoming a staple of the summer’s festival scene. As with any big music trend, there’s an element of repetition and a swathe of less talented artists that fall by the wayside. Much more excitingly though, there’s an upwelling of talented people who had lain undiscovered and suddenly come to light. Lisa Knapp is one of these new and outstanding talents.
Despite this being her second album, she’s an artist I hadn’t come across until very recently. That is not until I fell in love with her album Hidden Seam instantly upon listening. Described as progressive-folk the whole album has delicious elements of folk instruments and lilting vocals. Often the vocals are lost among melody and yet the outcome is a delicious merging of fiddle, banjo, strings and Lisa’s voice weaving all parts together. Her vocal range is impressively varied – at times breathy and halting like Bjork, sometimes more like the powerful alto-soprano style of Sinead O’Connor. On the title track ‘Hidden Seam’ the song pairs down to a Regina Spektor style spoken ending, that’s bravely unusual.
The whole album seems to explore Lisa’s personal fascinations. Rather than tracks about love and loss and the routine fodder of pop tracks, her songs explore a range of topics. Most notably on the opening track ‘Shipping Song’ where she recites the names of locations usually heard on the shipping forecast, while a 1950s American Marine recording intertwines with soft piano. The end result is a sort of ethereal scene setting – giving the impression of a place and a feeling, without revealing anything concrete.
…you can hear within the makeup of the music that something different is coming…
Often Knapp’s lyrics are so much a part of the songs melody that they become somewhat lost within. Normally this is a pet hate of mine, but in this case it gives a new level of interest. Sometimes a lyric suddenly breaks away from the rest and makes itself heard, other times the instruments fall away for a moment and suddenly her vocals are apparent. Lines like “you ride the black horse, I’ll ride the white, mine is the daytime and yours in the night” take on a sudden power when they momentarily rise above the rest of the track.
There’s a sense of anticipation to the album – you can hear within the makeup of the music that something different is coming. The piano drops down an octave and the strings abate – you find yourself straining to hear what comes next. The reward for your attentive listening? A roll of percussion, a delicate string section, or a voice that rises out from the quiet and holds your ear to a few key words.
…It’s easy to listen to the nine tracks on repeat…
The whole album is at the same time unstructured and strangely rhythmic. It’s easy to listen to the nine tracks on repeat, but not tire of them, as different elements of the songs rise to make themselves heard. At times the lyrics were lost to me, and I didn’t entirely know what the song was about. It doesn’t matter though. Each song stirs a feeling, and causes you to attach your own meaning.
Haunting and magnetic, this album will hold your attention to the last, growing more meaningful with every listen.