Saint Joan – One at Twilight

Saint Joan
One at Twilight

A rough-hewn beauty underscores the new release from Brits Saint Joan. The songs collected here are careful studies in melancholy: muted, down-tempo, and marked by the twin highlights of Ellen McGee’s crystalline voice and Matthew Williams’s scratchy, Michael Timmins-esque guitar playing. At only three songs, the band keeps a close focus on one mood, in this case a brooding, tremulous ghostliness. Despite this, one can imagine pretty easily these musicians being able to expand their sights (and, one hopes, their tempos) to reach the potential hinted at by the quality of these three quiet gems.
“Klaus Kinski” evokes Radiohead’s Hail to the Thief, with its eerie arpeggio guitar intro and McGee’s low, breathy vocals. The song wells to-well, not a crescendo, but about as close as Saint Joan is willing to get to one-before ebbing abruptly. That song has an insistent, compelling energy to it, which makes it the standout track, but that’s not to short-shrift the other songs, which continue in the same vein.
McGee work the higher end of her range on “Nightmare in E Minor” with a delicate falsetto counterpointing the song’s bass-heavy drone. Again, the Cowboy Junkies come to mind as a possible influence, as they do on “For Star City,” with its skeletal arrangement. McGee’s singing goes a long way toward allowing these dark, spare arrangements to work: imagine Sarah McLachlan but with a dark streak and a little more daring.
Saint Joan’s music deserves good, close listening. I hope they have the opportunity to put out a longer album (this release follows up a previous 7-inch). I’d like to hear what would happen if the band got a chance spread its wings a little, with more songs to explore different musical corners.