On Colt, the first full-length release from Irish multi-instrumentalist Hilary Woods, the principle approach to songwriting and arrangements consists of simple melodies, chords in arpeggio on piano or guitar, subtle atmospheric electronic touches, and distant percussive accents. The cumulative effect evokes open spaces, creeping darkness, contemplation at dusk. Given time, the melodies will gently wrap around the listener like ribbons.
That is a distinguishing feature of Woods’ music and also its key proviso. Colt‘s musical language, simply put, is unlikely to have wide appeal. For it to land, it demands of its audience at least patience, and then ideally sustained attention. It is short on the kinds of hooks that are conventional to pop songwriting, and its eight songs, which rise and fall at unhurried paces, are best taken as a single uninterrupted experience.
The reward for steadfast listeners is that Woods liberally and consistently conjures moments of quiet beauty from Colt‘s chiaroscuro shadings. “Inhaler” and “Prodigal Dog”, for example, are built on simple musical passages that resolve and repeat in a manner that can only be characterized as pleasing, like the warmth of the sun or a soft breeze. About mid-way through “Take Him In” a slightly off-kilter beat appears, as if arbitrarily, and if the audience can hang with Woods for at least a dozen or so repeated listenings it will begin to feel like a welcome, even consoling, addition to the song’s progression. These are carefully considered compositions.
The album has a centerpiece and a highlight in its fifth and sixth songs, “Kith” and “Jesus Said”. At nearly 12 minutes, they together feel like one long cast shadow. In the first song’s laconic lyrics she repeatedly asks “won’t you lie with me / till the rising sun?”, waiting on the answer. “Jesus said he loved me / but I couldn’t feel it,” she sings in the second song. Here and at other moments, Colt captures a palpable sense of aloneness. But in its essentially and insistently simple beauty it prefers consolation, calm, and patience, rather than merely melancholy.