by Phil Scarisbrick
Though a sea change in terms of sound, Altar loses none of the potency that made us fall in love with Jo Schornikow’s music
On 2019’s Secret Weapon, Jo Schornikow gave us a brief glimpse into her world with a collection that was marked by its musical lightness of touch – allowing her words and voice to flourish. Returning with a new long player that, again, doesn’t outstay its welcome, Schornikow uses the weight of years of touring, juxtaposed with the potent intensity of motherhood and looking at the debris of those parallel lives to shape Altar.
Within seconds of opener, Lose Yr Love, it is clear that the sonic journey we’re about to embark on is a different prospect to Secret Weapon’s sparse arrangements. Visions then bursts to life like a 21st Century incarnation of Fleetwood Mac’s Dreams, channelled through Gruff Rhys’ mind’s eye with a vocal that manages to simultaneously sound vulnerable and stoic at the same time as Schornikow sings, ‘Like a flash through the dark locking eyes / With a passing car away / Was a vision only.’
Patient is an absolute joy to listen to with its trudging stomp wading through the dark, before a multi-layered vocal shines like a neon torch on the way ahead at the song’s conclusion. Come Back sounds like a wonderful reimagining of an unwritten The War on Drugs’ track, while recent single, Plaster, gives the album the deep breath it needs before the final run. Schornikow’s voice soars as she sings, ‘I take the oath / God’s honour, I boast,’ on a song that was written while both wrists were in actual plaster.
Album closer and title track, Altar, is perhaps the most grand in terms of sound, but is once again grounded by Schornikow’s captivating voice. The real beauty in this track – and indeed this record – is that for everything that is happening around it, and however she is delivering it, her voice remains the focal point of everything. All other sounds are merely a vessel that delivers it to you.
It would be very easy for a record that has a more expansive sound than its predecessor to be all shirt and no trousers, but, on Altar, Jo Schornikow has managed to create something that moves her sound along in leaps and bounds, but doesn’t lose the essence of what made us fall in love with her music in the first place.
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