Give or take a week, it’s been exactly two years since Manchester-duo Gymnast played Thank Folk For That Live in their hometown, alongside Farao (named Like Spinning at the time) and Dan Croll (oh no, wait, he pulled out…grr!). And we’ve carefully kept an eye and ear on them ever since, as they’ve worked on their sound, their delivery and even their confidence. In fact, we’ve known them for a lot longer than Gymnast, when Cathy Wilcock and Chris Lyon were part of a larger, Edinburgh-based outfit named Mayhew, who a very select few of you will know made it through as The People’s Choice in the Glastonbury Emerging Talent contest in 2010.
Back then, their sound was rich in folky, classical vibes, but as a duo, Gymnast have added alluring and ambient electronic beats and synths; without being forceful or heavy in any way. Wild Fleet, their debut album which follows the glorious 2013 Wait For Dark With A Heady Heart EP, perfectly blends elegant strings, flowing keys, daydream synths, throbbing beats and beguiling vocals, to create both a gloriously captivating and gently enchanting piece of work.
Releasing the record themselves allowed Gymnast an innovative spot of PR, which has seen the duo reveal a new track from the album each Friday over the past few weeks, leading up to the grand unveiling at the end of last month. A rather clever idea, this has given listeners the chance to really get a feel for each track, let it soak in and breathe a desire to hear more. Album opener Leander began this operation back in mid-July and even then, without hearing any other of the record’s material, sounded like a perfect opener.
Build A Boat and Geneva both featured on 2013’s Wait For Dark With A Heady Heart EP and continue to be firm favourites, displaying some beautiful cello from maestro Lyon, that slightly husky and ever-alluring voice of Wilcock, and some bloomin’ addictive grooves. It would be easy to note a similarity to Alt-J and Wild Beasts at this point; but there is such an absolute uniqueness to Gymnast that this would be somewhat lazy (though I understand quite helpful to those hearing them for the first time!)
A great deal praise must almost be given to the arrangement of Wild Fleet. Tracks such as Away The Sun are wonderfully dreamy, Sleeper for example would make a perfect soundtrack for a misty, late Winter film scene, and Up In Arms is so rich and compelling that one cannot help but hit repeat multiple times – hence the beauty of releasing each track one at a time before the full article.
An album like this makes it very difficult to pinpoint a ‘best moment’. Having heard Sirens live on numerous occasions and hummed it to myself on the walk home every time, I would probably pick this, track 8, if questioned under severe torture – predominantly due to the stunning blend of Lyon and Wilcock’s vocals, along with the overall flow/slight odd timing of the keys, synths and subtle beat.
But all in all, each one is pretty much as great as the last. If one was to pick a flaw, there are times where Cathy Wilcock’s vocals / the beginning of a track sounds a bit similar to one heard just before…but that would really be nitpicking. I’m fully aware that this isn’t exactly a folky album, but it is a record that deserves a great deal of attention. This could very well be the debut of a band that we’ll be discussing in many years to come. And I for one, desperately hope that that is the case.