Music

Kathryn Williams: The Quickening

Photo: Amanda Searle

What if the sentiment "I love you" was no different than "I have an itch"? Would life have meaning?


Kathryn Williams

The Quickening

Label: One Little Indian
US Release Date: 2010-07-06
UK Release Date: 2010-02-22
Amazon
iTunes

Everyone knows that life is just a great big mystery. Our experiences help shape and guide our understanding, but often we remain confused. Sometimes, music can help give expression to these inchoate thoughts and feelings we have about ourselves and the world. Kathryn Williams' latest release, The Quickening, deals directly with these existential questions. She offers enchanting iterations of these concerns, but Williams is as much in the dark as the rest of us. And in the dark, she dreams.

Consider the beautiful, raga-like "Just a Feeling", where the British lass gently asks, "What if love is just a feeling"? She obscures the terror of the koan’s wisdom by singing in a lilting voice to a gentle acoustic accompaniment, but what if -- what if love were no different and no more special than any other sensation? What if the sentiment "I love you" was no different than "I have an itch"? Would life have meaning? The effect is made more chilling by Williams' deadpan delivery.

If this sounds kind of highbrow, you are right. Williams' lyrics could stand as the type of poetry found in today's university and literary journals. She follows the template of offering short, pithy stanzas that do not necessarily tie together, but end with a witty and compelling statement that makes it seem as if the associations add up to more than what they are. Williams' musicality makes her better than these versifiers, though. She pens songs whose stanzas become verses and choruses. Her meters become rhythms and beats. Williams' songs have hooks, haunting melodies, sparkling sound effects, and odd electronic atmospherics. The music is presented in a meticulously clear folk-rock style.

Sometimes Williams gets deliberately coy and obfuscates, such as on the jazzy "Cream of the Crop", where she trumpets the values of a material life with a sneer that suggests she wants to have her cake and eat it to. Yes, money and the things it buys can be superficial pleasures, but, boy, a fancy restaurant date can be so nice. And a good-looking beau with romantic style to share it with is hard to resist. She can also be somewhat obvious, with lines like, "Holding you is like holding smoke". But for the most part, Williams’ instincts are good.

She is best when she keeps thing simple, such as in the 83-second "Black Oil", where she wonders how some flowers just seem to glow at sunset and then mourns "the birds were head to toe in black oil" the next moment. She recorded this before the oil spill in the Gulf, but the metaphor works as fanciful as well as factual. Williams looks at modern life and is confused. Nature is still out there, but the world of people is just as real a fact of life. Everywhere you look there is something to observe that makes you pause and reflect, even if it’s just the "white lines" on the highway, "a city as big and wide as a mountain range", and "missing Polaroids in the family album". Contemplation always follows observation, even if you only see what is missing.

The Quickening is Williams eighth album and recorded in Wales. The twelve songs were taped live over a four-day period, yet the music never seems rushed. She manages to capture the urgency of the existential moment without the anxiety of not knowing what it all means. Life may be but a dream, but that’s okay.

8

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

This has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it.

It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven't been everyone's favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.

Keep reading... Show less
Theatre

​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

Keep reading... Show less
10

So far J. J. Abrams and Rian Johnson resemble children at play, remaking the films they fell in love with. As an audience, however, we desire a fuller experience.

As recently as the lackluster episodes I-III of the Star Wars saga, the embossed gold logo followed by scrolling prologue text was cause for excitement. In the approach to the release of any of the then new prequel installments, the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare, followed by the Lucas Film logo, teased one's impulsive excitement at a glimpse into the next installment's narrative. Then sat in the movie theatre on the anticipated day of release, the sight and sound of the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare signalled the end of fevered anticipation. Whatever happened to those times? For some of us, is it a product of youth in which age now denies us the ability to lose ourselves within such adolescent pleasure? There's no answer to this question -- only the realisation that this sensation is missing and it has been since the summer of 2005. Star Wars is now a movie to tick off your to-watch list, no longer a spark in the dreary reality of the everyday. The magic has disappeared… Star Wars is spiritually dead.

Keep reading... Show less
6

Ahead of Offa Rex's Newport Folk Festival set, Olivia Chaney talked about the collaboration with the Decemberists.

I was lucky enough to catch two of Offa Rex's performances this past summer, having been instantaneously won over by the lead single and title track from the record, The Queen of Hearts. The melodious harmonium intro on the track is so entrancing, I didn't want to miss their brief tour. The band had only scheduled a few dates due in part to other commitments and perhaps limited by their already busy schedules, the Decemberists are actively touring and had their own festival in the summer while and their friend, "sublime English vocalist" Olivia Chaney, had arrived from across the pond.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image