Album Review: The Unthanks – Mount The Air

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4.5

Mount The Air comes after a four-year wait since the last Unthanks album and took two years to finish. It is their fifth album or seventh if we include The Unthanks’ Diversion Series, which featured live performances of their interpretations of the music of Robert Wyatt, Antony & The Johnsons as well as live versions of their own songs performed with Bighouse and Rustic Brass Band. In volume three of this series they also recorded a soundtrack album entitled Songs From The Shipyards, so it’s not as if they haven’t been busy.

Released on their own label, RabbleRouser, this is the first Unthanks recording to present writing from all five core members including debut contributions from Rachel and Becky. Pianist Adrian McNally, husband of Rachel, once more features as composer of a number of the tracks like on previous recordings.

What makes this album so captivating is not only the wonderful quality of the voices of Rachel and Becky Unthanks, but also the unrushed spaciousness that exists within each composition. The title track is quite a long piece to start the album and is quite an epic. It builds slowly as violin, trumpet, piano and strings weave together until the percussion enters to create a rich accompaniment to the one-verse traditional ditty that was uncovered by Becky Unthank in a book of Dorset songs in Cecil Sharp House.

Madam is a delicate melodic song with lush strings intertwining with an intimate vocal and piano. Emotions run high in Died For Love, another stunning track with a timeless melancholic quality to it. In Flutter, the line Life’s a flutter is sung repeatedly and sounds almost desperate at the end as if life is too overbearing. A traditional rhyme is adapted in Magpie and here we can really appreciate how well the Unthank sisters’ voices complement each other due to the sparse accompaniment.

The most experimental track is For Dad which features the voice of a man talking to a child while instruments hum in the background until the violin arrives to deepen the sense of nostalgia for the past. The Poor Stranger features piano, vocals and violin and another melody that is hard to let go of.  The final track, Waiting, is an uplifting, bouncy instrumental that ends the album on a bright note.

This is a triumphant recording for The Unthanks – a timeless classic that will keep listeners in eager anticipation for more to come.

Phil Soanes