Sunday Best Rec. V.A. : Folk Off! -new folk- (UK/US,2006)*°°'
The relationship between the upcoming nu-folk scenes in the US owing a depth to 70s British Isles folk, while also in the UK there are known new, interesting scenes, was something the compiler of this release, "Rob da Bank" realized as well. They dedicated one CD to British groups, and another one for American examples, and compiled what they say is new folk and psychedelia, in fact is nu-folk to indie-folkpop, only very occasionally with a psychedelic pop reference.
This intended area which was described is also my speciality, so I had certain high expectations. From the British Isles they succeeded in including a few rather essential groups, and some surprising unknown obscurities, which for me were great to discover. For the genre I personally think that intuitive, emotional or at least subtle arrangements and voices are an important quality. For most of the first half of the first cd are such examples. However, with the listing of more obscurities they also included more straight forward voices, and examples of more empty inspirations, with more simplistic and repetitive elements, making them more like an unsuccessful and not very talented or inspired enough indiepop, compared to the elsewhere intuitive-moody and more psychedelic genre. They’re different, indie examples.
Tunng is an essential inclusion, for me for what they did in 2005, while they actually received more attention in 2006 with a not so successful repetition of the formula with a new album, having lost some spontaneity. With their first album they had introduced a very nu-folk version of folktronica. I was much more amazed by Efterklang who after their 2004 masterpiece, so after this compilation, in 2007, have still improved and made all necessary changes for a follow-up. Fitting well is the acoustic guitar track by North Sea Radio Orchestra. I looked them up, and they sound like an interesting new discovery for me. Acid Casuals is a bit more post 60s psychedelia, a fine arranged but simple track, that fits in well in the compilation. 'This is the Kit' sounds like a nice and beautiful young voice using a bit of fantasy in her voice, and nice guitar pickings. Also she sounds like an interesting obscure talent which deserves to be heard, and a good choice. I heard their label is still moving the release date and are still looking for licensing/distribution in the UK. Vasthi Bunyan after this, is another artist who has received already some of the attention she deserves, not only on my webpages but anywhere, as one of the best preserved elements and talents from the late 60s/early 70s, with a comeback at the right time. A figure who I found was overestimated however in the nu-folk evolutions was James Yorkston who sounded more like someone who has jumped in on the right moment, but without much of his own distinctive deeper lying identity, for he is like a styllistic imitation without inspired content. Also the included, relatively nice, spoken word track with arrangements by Reporter, sounds perhaps not too honestly inspired and more like a stolen style inspired from a group with the real sensitivity and feeling for poetry and spoken work, the earlier Pianomagic, who for me should have been included instead. Last name for me at that time was a little revelation in style, and Yorkston’s track still falls out as being empty against this. Songs of Green Pheasant for me is one of the so many vague, poor soft and mood-singer-songwriters, depending a bit more on good and moody arrangements, are one of the many Fat-Cat discoveries, are perhaps also not the most essential example, but it still is a good representation. A bit further we hear Eighteenth Day Of May which I called before one of the best folk-rock acts from the UK, who are included with just a small, not too special but ok track. The idea that they are included might have been more important. All left over tracks I think are not lifting up the scene, not by more ordinary and mainstream singing, or vague ideas continuing something of something. While Clayhill’s song has ok minimalist folk arrangements a dreamy voice would have confirmed the moodiness of this, but instead gets an ordinary unattractive singing voice. Also DeepElem’s singer and also rhythms sounds too mainstream and MOR I don’t see how this adds anything to the context. Also Jakokoyak with its simplistic not too inspired improvisation and repetitions are more an example of not too successful indiefolk pop. And I have much doubts on the lost obscurity of Same Actor, playing with breaking beats and a sitar recording, without ever sounding attractive or clever, as one of the few most uninteresting and least successful examples of the kind. Also Magnétophone and Listen to Sarah sound empty, the last one with really bad taste of sampled and looped ethno-folk.
For the North American examples (I wished even South American examples as an answer to the scenes could have had a chance, but that’s of course just a choice), most comprehensible is that they included Marissa Nadler (for she became one of the deserved, most promising new acoustic voices for the media), Vetiver (for they toured so much everybody must have heard of them now), Espers (the most successful underground folk group, around that time, launching in time a trust for Greg Weeks’ choices, and the bands later contributions to many other bands and projects), Sufjan Stevens (his tastefully produced song music received much attention, even when I still think it is a strange idea to write and make music with an album for each state and see this as a more important ambition than expressing the true sound of each state with it), Animal Collective (as one of the weird groups, who atracted attention, there’s even more weird material like Cerberus Shoal or Volcano The Bear for instance who probably will never attract the big public), Baby Dee (now when the hype around Anthony & The Johnsons has been cooled down, the association with this harpist/voice sounds like opening up new possibilities for a comparable curiosity, something which seemed to have been a fortunate guess, because a few years later, they will have taken this opportunity), Mi and L’Au (as one of the Young Gods discoveries, a fine sweet songwriter example with psych-folk associations. So, almost half of the tracks were artists I had also given attention to before for comparable reasons. This leaves us a few others. Most of the other names, and tracks sound like cheaper fill-ups which have nothing to do with this UK/American folk/psych root connection, so for these tracks I have no idea why they have come up with that idea in the first place. Also these examples don’t connect with the intuitive sensitivity which is needed in the feeling of such or any deeper connection. Micah P Hinson sounds exactly like an American folk singer with a more average American style. Exactly the same can be said of the boring Americana voice of Richard Swift. Laura Cantrell’s song is not too deep going Americana folk-pop. Also Dr.Dog indiefolk band song, misses any for me in general necessary subtle feelings. Quiet simplistic is the electronic box with piano on Au Revoir Simone’s track, who sounds like a singer with the right attraction in her voice, for an alternative pop singer, so also this is too folk off. Ready Made FC fits together with Au Revoir Simone’s track for the use of rhythmbox and keyboards but also harp, basically also is acoustic mainstream indie pop. The Jack Lewis track is too much poprock to fit here, and suffers from the same empty intuitivity. Blitzen Trapper is perhaps the only singer-songwriter track I could stand to hear a bit longer.
In other words, this compilation pretended to explore something in the new folk and psychedelia explorations in the UK and the US, but did not do their homework well enough. For the title folk off they even tend to be, especially for the lesser known American examples, a bit too much offfolk too often. There is a reason why media and public are looking for categorisation like freakfolk or weird folk / wyrd folk, acidfolk or psychedelicfolk, but that needs also certain qualities the public prefers to hear presented, something which is only partially successful here. Of course there exist also indiefolk and antifolk scenes which don’t make much connections at all, and just prefer to prove themselves in this world like any other pop example. Even if not presented as such, not sure if it is deliberately or not (fill ups ?), last association might have been a part of the interest for the compilation. The first CD hung well together for a large part. I still prefer to check out some the preferable artists separately.