Prowling the caverns of chilled malevolence
This will undoubtedly sink into the cloak of nothing, but will we mourn or idly walk by as it occupies the bargain bins around town? There are subtle differences between those songs that, on first glance, seem empty and in need of a soul. But because it is such a tender and sweet little slice of a lost heart in a big world, many will not have the time for it and instead stamp in hard with the 'Damian Rice' brand.
So the problem with James Yorkston might well be nothing to do with him or his music, but for us listeners and the hard noses we have been forced to adopt from being subjected to the barrage of uniformed expression and the industry lies that tell us THIS is the latest and best thing to buy... In a musical environment that is drugged with doctored press releases, heavy corporate leanings and propaganda machines that, if he were alive, would necessitate that Philip K. Dick wears brown trousers every single day, the world has become too corrupt to allow an honest music that is made purely for the love of making it.
There are moments in the album where its cause really isn't helped, with wet warblings such as 'Summer Song' dribbling out prolonged, and stretched notes that squirm in James' throat and sit uncomfortably on the eardrum. It's like listening to a happy Nick Drake (though it may have been impossible in reality whilst he was alive!), floating along a river of cider and slowly becoming drunk via the drenched skin pores. Other wrongdoings include 'Woozy with Cider' that is like a cheap meditative tape with some Scots rambling over the top, spouting out semi-artistic diatribe that just doesn't go down right. The average ear will not be content in sharing his woe and will not accept a drink from the cup of tears that he has gathered together in his spare time.
Despite there being a lack of what could be called an 'attention grabber', there are certain pieces that stick and are admirably frank, such as '5 a.m.', a strangely chorded number that pokes its dozy head out of the sheets of solid-as-spirits compositions and oozes its cold slumber and consciously insomniac mumbling all over you until you feel a little shiver in your codpiece. 'I Awoke', a jaunty folk piece with a dark side barely concealed, is also a great and sad journey, where the lyrics keep your interest just like a dismembered mouse head would ('Did she cry out and reel you in / cos she cried out and I shall never feel the same // Did you want her, did you need her more than I?' = 'eeek!' 'URGH!').
A lot of this stuff is more at home in front of an open fire with a bottle of mild alcohol and perhaps a pipe of good tobacco. This is contemporary folklore, bridging the gap between the old fogies and the trendy new lone guitarists that, as he wittingly observes, are on ads selling oranges or lemons or whatever else. 'Us Late Travellers' is probably the single best song to highlight this standpoint, where the subdued and easily talked-over emotion is intriguing and something that begs to be seen in the flesh as opposed to awkwardly thwapped down onto disc. It's too easy to divert your attention to something louder and aggressive.
With a distinct I-am-a-barren-land-man-at-heart sort of vibe, James is really an artist that has taken in all the experiences of his home and his scenery and painted the musical accompaniment. It is sparse, surreptitiously melancholy, with light singing and breezy acoustics that make you think of hills, cold, space, wood and natural emotion. It couldn't be more apt, then, that he feels out of depth within his temporary stomping ground of Edinburgh and in need of return to Fife and the lesser populated areas of Scotland.
It'll be hard to see how the 'Leopard' will survive if it doesn't show some teeth.