Kathryn Joseph – From When I Wake the Want Is review

Secret Meeting score: 83

by Philip Moss

In 2015, Kathryn Joseph’s debut album, Bones You Have Thrown Me, And Blood I’ve Spilled, staved off competition from major label artists such as Paolo Nutini and indie darlings, Belle & Sebastian and Young Fathers, to win the annual Scottish Album of the Year award.

Three years on, the 43-year-old Aberdeen native has returned with her sophomore LP, From When I Wake the Want Is. It would have been very easy to follow the same blueprint that made her debut such a loved record, but from just the opening fifteen seconds of droning hiss and muffled pianos on IIII, it’s clear that Joseph is an artist that’s willing to take risks.

Where the debut had distinctive separation and clarity in its instrumentation, Joseph and her musical collaborator/producer, Marcus Mackay, favour hazy soundscapes this time around. A field recording opens And You Survived and rumbles in and out throughout, providing a distant percussive element in place of any ‘real’ drums. The voice, however, remains largely the same, flitting between squeaking Joanna Newsomisms and seemingly possessed wails. One thing that must be noted is that everything here feels real. Of course, there will always be an element of performance whenever you place a microphone in front of someone, but Joseph’s performances come from deep within the core.

On And It Will Lick You Clean, the pianos are more distinctive, before being juxtaposed with ice cold electronic percussion. But, again, underneath the repetitive, tinkling melody, there is space for Joseph’s lubricious narrative to consume the song – ‘If this is in love all I want is out and you and blood and me / And some and out and loud and sight and sound / If this is in love all I want is out and it will lick you clean’.

Texturally, Grouper and JDFR feel like reference points. The repetitive, murmuring chords of Safe and the excellent title track evoke much of Liz Harris’ works, while Mouths Full Of Blood would slot uncomfortably onto the young Icelandic songwriter’s wondrous Brazil LP.

However, perhaps the most engrossing track on the record is Mountain, which brings to mind another female artist – Kate Bush. Again, the pianos are repetitively swirling, but there’s an urgency as the vocal melody and percussion race against each other, both ebbing and flowing through questions of spirituality and mortality- ‘Will you wait for death to come and take you? Will you wait for God to ask him why? Will you wait until your daughter wakes you wide? And shows you why you have to try’.

This is a challenging record, and one senses Joseph would not want it any other way.If I was a betting man, I’d be sticking a tenner on her retaining her SOY crown, as there won’t be many better records to come out of Caledonia this year.

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