If you consider yourself one of those music aficionados who likes to “break” new music to your friends and family, here’s one for you. Washington Irving, a five-piece band from Aberdeen, have been toiling away north of the border for a few years. The first instalment in a debut two-part album suggests they have a great deal of promise.
Whenever the band are asked to summarise their sound, the usual genre-defining terms of indie-folk-rock are thrown around. But above all, they like to emphasise that they are “loud”. Opening number, Wandering Wits, illustrates perfectly what they were getting at: the relentless, rattling beat punctuates the clipped, Scottish accent of lead singer Joe Black, whose vocals are allowed to lurch and totter with the kind of delicate imperfection that signals no danger of overproduction here. It’s visceral stuff – so visceral, in fact, that there are whiffs of Sex Pistols’ Anarchy in the UK in the middle section of the song, before the floating Celtic guitar riff reminds us that this is nowhere near an attempt to bring back punk. Still, an early statement of loudness well made.
The ‘semi-album’ is bookended by this and the contrasting Old St Luan, which feels as though it is emanating from an old country pub, deep in the bowels of rural Scotland. You can actually imagine that an ageing malt Scotch would go perfectly with this ode to folklore and Black’s storytelling tips a cap to the American short story writer who shares his name with the band. By this point, the raucous introduction has given way to a more steady, deeply Celtic, folk.
Between the two points, it seems as though the band have (probably unintentionally) come up with a soundtrack for a remake of Braveheart. It is impossible to see these songs as anything but Scottish because the music does so much to carry images of the Highlands. Just when the Wild West guitar line introduction of Holy Company seems to divert proceedings, the vocals and tambourine bring us right back to rolling hills of green.
She Moved Through The Fair is worth a listen to get a taste of what Washington Irving have in store for us in the second part of the album. Think Braveheart’s noble death. The plodding drum, the violin, Black’s wallowing vocal invoke the spirit of a country that has just gone global with the success of Frightened Rabbit. Perhaps a little too early to tell if Washington Irving will reach the same heady heights, but the first five songs are enough to whet the appetite.