by Philip Moss
On her 2017 debut solo album, Colt, Hilary Woods presented a collection of spacious home recordings that soared and swelled around her gentle voice. On follow up, Birthmarks, we are confronted by something equally majestic, but altogether different.
Conjured during pregnancy, this sophomore release sees the Irish songwriter in deeply reflective mood. Lyrically, she flits between the metaphorically brutal and the literal hardness of daily existence. Tongues of Wild Boars and Orange Tree paint disturbing pictures that align with the provocative photography that adorns the album’s sleeve, but there’s still sheer beauty that comes through in her carefully constructed vocal melodies.
Like Colt, it too began life in her home studio. But a trip to Oslo to work with experimental noise composer and filmmaker, Lasse Marhaug, saw it take on a new life. Arrangements throughout are wild – the musical palette on Through The Dark, Love fades from raging static to tender acoustic folk. Lay Bare allows a little breathing space at the record’s centre, and would make for a fine avant-garde soundtrack to Heathcliffe’s moments of internal torment in Wuthering Heights, while the distorted antagonistic beats on The Mouth recall Scott Walker’s The Drift.
Not so much a record, as an all encompassing, combative assault on the senses. A glorious, manic return.