As an artist, few things mean more to me than to see people engage and respond to the stories I tell through my music. One of my university lecturers – also a fellow musician and a friend – took the time to jot down some of his thoughts around my album. It is one of the most in-depth and sensitive responses to my music I have yet come across. Here is Riaan Oppelt’s review of The Fox and the Furrow. I hope it brings some new insight into the stories locked up in these songs. Cheers, Otto.
Album Review by Riaan Oppelt
Here are some quick thoughts I’d hoped to send over a month ago already. I am still living with the album, finding it works best in my car when I drove to and from work, and it is your lyrical schemes I am now delving more and more into. There are some many things I’d still want to talk about, from the backing vocals and textures on the album, but I’ve confined myself to the elements that immediately stand out in my memory since I started listening in November. Of course, I have been regularly consuming the music you tell your stories in, so my short thoughts below speak to that:
Not only is the right intro for this album, it neatly dovetails (in terms of beginning and ending as well as ending and beginning again) the ending that occurs so majestically serene in ‘Father’, and the play with destinations and starting points is really well constructed. The sparse piano notes fall wonderfully in place, underscoring your vocal in all the right ways. An album like this needs an opener that works in the way you’ve fashioned here, and it sets up the intriguing segues that occur at other points in the album, with the most poignant arrow pointing to ‘Furrow’.
This song does its business quickly, preparing your listeners for the journeys that will be taken through the album and solidly establishing the theme of a pilgrim (and at times a wanderer) with a place in mind, and the place that he carries within. Your lyrics paint this vividly and effectively.
From the beginning I thought that this one had a chorus that, by rights, should not have worked outside of a machine-engineered industrial pop effort but you truly pull it off with some aplomb. The song has so many textures and palette changes that I cannot but marvel at the musicianship articulating that visual, effective chorus and the build-up to it. Your album establishes a serious three-part story from this point on, to me, in terms of the narrative dialogues that start to take hold.
‘Furrow’ musically, feels like the second part of a trilogy, following on from the previous track. It is at times playful but also quite tricky, not a song to just nail in one or two attempts. The winter imagery reaches full poetry by this point through both music and lyrics and this is a very important point on the album, like a chapter in a book that breaks away from the beginning and transitions into the depths of a story. The guitars, especially, begin to story a theme and style that moves on from here to the next track.
5. Winter Tree
‘Winter Tree’ was the first track I’d heard and remains the touchstone, the window to the album. The guitars and drums, throughout the album, are the instrumental champions that keep arresting me and they blend so beautifully behind your impassioned vocal here, where those lyrics are so evocative. The guitar playing here is really concentrated and sublime, building on some of the touches first heard in the previous track. And is that a mixed meter that recurs throughout the song? I ask because the timing and drumming rhythm displacement is stunning. It’s a great stand-alone song but in terms of musical scope it completes a mini-trilogy before things get avalanched in tone and mood in the next track.
6. The Snow
This is the album’s epic, just a superlative piece of music with lyrics that do just enough to create the epic without intruding on the soundscape (‘the mountain keeper’ is positively haunting). The album’s best guitar playing occurs here (also among the best drums) and that’s saying something because this is an album of layered guitar storytelling. The track veers between life, life passing and afterlife and the guitars take one there all the way through.
7. Sweet Ocean
This is an almost unexpected colour change, especially as one has barely come off a snow-capped mountain! The jarring change is exactly what makes it work and some more striking poetic passages can be found here, situating our feeble but all-we-have-humanity against infinity, and shining on the perspective we draw from it. Your voice does what your guitar playing has been doing all the while: it goes from place to place without surrendering both vulnerability and determination. This song also displays something you have an innate feel for: knowing when to stop singing and letting the instruments carry the song, building up motifs that your voice then directs when it returns.
‘Heaven’ is a shimmering display of what your voice can do, and you choose all the appropriate registers to ask the searching questions and confident statements posed in the lyrics (‘who can understand the Creative mind on the other side’). It’s a necessary ‘breather’ song after the unbelievable seven ‘chapters’ we’ve just experienced yet those brushes on the drums along with the soothing picking on the guitar by no means suggest a song that can be ignored.
I have fond memories of since you contextualized it somewhat last we spoke, and it is another high point example of how well you are able to sketch with lyrics. Through the very miracle that ‘family’ actually is, your story-teller remembers that larger presences abound in smaller things, such as the challenges and rewards of the spaces between family members, the rhythm of relationships that are given to us when we are born. It is delicate, very personal and very important to the album’s narrative.
‘Spark’ has the most energetic music and may be my personal favourite for the steady chorus, a bit of a reminder (to me) of ‘Honeycomb’. There is a steady mood evisceration here, befitting its place on the album and showing what your voice can do when things are cranked up a little more, a very healthy peek into another aspect of your storyteller’s abilities. The sudden ending is a surprise but a good full stop to have before moving on.
11. The Morning
keeps with a slightly cranked up feel and there’s a freshness to it if we remember that from ‘Sweet Ocean’ to ‘Streettalk’ we were in quieter territory, the introspective parts of a journey. Once again, there are different colours and shades to the guitar playing and with your voice and the drums the music is, as ever, rock-solid. The praising quality of the chorus (and the build up to it) is unforgettable.
‘Father’ has its first notable element through the strummed guitar opening, the first time it’s not you playing on the album and the first time an acoustic guitar is not picking first. This is already a strong start to a final song but you don’t stop there: those lovely brushes on the drums return and it’s band territory when the ‘Father’ responds, telling us that all music, all harmony, is this, the voice of the response. A place (a destination, a place at the table) has been reached and a journey has been fulfilled, and ‘Uproot’ come to mind because a musical promise has been fulfilled but, for many taking in this journey, these journeys begin again every day.