The Upshot: Creating empyrean beauty from personal emotions is as difficult a task as indulging in sonic experimentation while maintaining the traits people loved in the first place. But Edwards and the Unfortunates do it.
BY MICHAEL TOLAND
The four previous platters by Matthew Edwards – three with his former band The Music Lovers and one with his current group the Unfortunates – essayed a distinctive blend of British pop, French chanson and classic singer/songwriter craft that proved irresistibly beguiling to those lucky enough to come across them. For his fifth LP Folklore, Edwards keeps the faith with his proficient songsmithery, but gives his work a sonic makeover.
Rather than stick with his usual folky chamber pop – which would’ve worked well enough, as it always has – Edwards, the band and engineer John A. Rivers (who worked closely with Edwards’ pal Nikki Sudden throughout his career) open up the sound, taking the menacing “Ghost,” from the previous Unfortunates album The Fates, as a jumping-off point. The electric guitars are louder and grungier, the drums more insistent and polyrhythmic, the atmospheres murkier. Storm clouds haunt “Birmingham” and “I Can Move the Moon,” while an ill wind blows through “Song of Songs” and “When We Arrived at the Mountain.” “Lazy” simply rocks harder than anything Edwards has attempted before now. Guitarist Fred Frith and keyboardist Eric Drew Feldman – both veterans of The Fates – contribute heavily to the tone, imprinting their own distinctive personalities even as they serve Edwards’ vision. There’s mystery here, a sense that nothing is quite what it seems – even as, oddly enough, the emotions get more direct.
Inspired by his move from San Francisco back to his native Birmingham, England after twenty years, Edwards opens up as never before. The thrill and melancholy of moving from one home to another, interspersed with trips to the hospital to visit a sick relative, swirls through “Birmingham,” while the tenderness of love never wavers during “The Willow Girl.” Uncertainty flirts with confidence in “I Can Move the Moon,” while yearning for grace powers “Home.” The subject of “When We Arrive at the Mountain” remains secretive, but with lines like “I can’t believe I’m still bleeding” it can’t be good. “Young Man” takes a sardonic look at aging, acknowledging an increasing collection of flaws without even nodding toward self-pity. This isn’t solipsism, however – no matter how many times Edwards uses the word “I,” he really means “we.” Few artists are so adept at taking introspection and making it universal.
Creating empyrean beauty from personal emotions is as difficult a task as indulging in sonic experimentation while maintaining the traits people loved in the first place. But Edwards and the Unfortunates do it, spectacularly, making Folklore another piece of brilliance.
DOWNLOAD: “Birmingham,” “The Willow Girl,” “I Can Move the Moon”