I could be uninformed, but I can’t think of many folk records that have benefited from an hour-long running time, or multiple tracks surging past the eight minute mark. The genre has always existed in a sparse, naturalistic world – and the albums that have pulled off the extended style well (Ys and The Cloud of Unknowing come to mind) are anything but traditional efforts.
Enter The Unthanks, a surprisingly traditional British folk group – its nucleus being two, similarly voiced sisters (Rachel and Becky Unthank respectively) equipped with a variety of baroque-era instruments. Although their sound is filtered through a studio-forged psychedelic haze, it’s still founded on historic folk sensibilities. Their latest effort Here’s The Tender Coming achieves a perplexing idiosyncrasy through ingredients you’d probably think would be exhausted by now.
The first thing you’ll notice about Here’s The Tender Coming is just how well the sisters’ voices work together. They ring with a stunningly organic gorgeousness – even when they’re basically doing warm-ups like on the near lyric-less opener “Because He Was a Bonny Lad.” They sound ancient – almost mystical – like their voices were born with the Earth itself, and they keep the record’s curiosity intact. Here’s The Tender Coming is incredibly methodical – everything moves at a very deliberate, very planned pace. Even the simpler compositions (like the secluded violin ‘n’ vocal/literary reference combo of “The Testimony of Patience Kershaw”) are anything but slight. The album feels very crafted because of it, organized as a true listening experience rather than a collection of songs.
Here’s The Tender Coming, like a lot of slow-paced albums, will suffer criticisms for homogenous songwriting, and to a point they’re valid. Although it never loses its fantastical splendor, the bottom third of the record definitely starts to drag a little – the second to last cut “At First She Starts” is so barely there (even by folk standards) you wonder why they bothered. Thankfully aside from a few superficial blemishes, Here’s The Tender Coming’s world is dense enough, and interesting enough to merit a visit. Rarely does an album build its own cosmos as effectively.