Imagine unearthing half a gem. On the one hand it’s still pretty, it still sparkles in the light and it’s probably still worth something, but on the other hand it’s obvious that something is still very much missing. You have half – it’s better than nothing, right? Actually, it isn’t, and Flutes’ self-titled debut proves it. You see, this is how the album appeared to me at first; beautiful, yes, and brilliant, but sparse. Sometimes simplicity is better, necessary even.
Sometimes the bare minimum does the job. But that wasn’t the case here. I wasn’t getting the whole picture and I knew it. After a few listens – with only one speaker working – it was obvious I was merely getting a glimpse.
What followed was what can only be described as a two-day expedition – battling the beginnings of The Scottish Winter, trudging through snow, slush and various states of ice and water, in the dark, and trying to avoid being killed by mental Glaswegian taxi drivers – in search of a second working speaker. What I wasn’t prepared for was just how amazing Flutes is, how truly talented Flutes are and exactly how much I was missing out on. You know those times when you come across a band with a record so damn special, so good it literally stops you right where you are, and you suddenly forget how to breathe – that’s the effect it has.
Flutes opens with the single ‘Auld Archie’, a track that starts small and understated, lifted and carried by sharp, crystal-clear vocals. It builds up gradually, layer by layer and piece by piece, increasing in intensity and depth with each, and then brilliant, haunting vocal harmonies hit you. Imagine turning that gem around in your hands, watching as it sparkles and shines and reveals more if itself and its beauty as you do. In a similar way ‘Auld Archie’ doesn’t give much away at first. Instead it takes it’s time to really reveal just what’s made of and just how much it glitters as it gathers pace and a growing confidence, surrounding you entirely – almost threatening to swallow you whole before slinking back to tiny proportions, leaving you stunned and reeling.
‘It’s What’s Between That Makes Us Happy’ is nothing like ‘Auld Archie’ in that there isn’t as much drama or melancholy. Instead its way is lighter on its feet, with a definite sense of optimism and urgency, launching straight into light pop melodies and more of those brilliant harmonies. Like our gem before, the more you spin it, the more you get. It changes course again with ‘This Is No Country For Old Men’, this time opting for high drama, atmosphere and an even greater sense of urgency than before, with an ever-growing intensity that catches your breath and quickens your heart. It’s always constantly on the edge of tipping over and pulling back at the very last moment, but never once giving in or losing control.
Their fourth offering again starts very small in an almost disturbingly pretty way, like an old long-forgotten music box, and in what is becoming recognisable, gradually picking up the pace and that now unmistakable layered quality crafted piece by piece until it turns into something entirely other – dramatic, beautiful and alluring all at once. By now it’s clear that Flutes is an album full of surprises; you can never tell where it’ll head next, even after you become familiar with it. There doesn’t seem to be any kind of pattern or order either.
No track does what you expect it to, always altering course, mixing up the tempo and the atmosphere at every turn.
It’s easier, really, to just let it take you over, to let it literally have its way with you.
‘Kilburn’ starts with an intro that’s unsettling and a little confusing – even just for a moment – yet again, switching paths and heading in yet another direction. That said, it suits them, whereas for somebody else, it may well end up sounding haphazard, chaotic, schizophrenic, even – almost as if it had no idea what it was meant to be. It still retains similar and now familiar qualities as the previous tracks – the many layers and elements although together creating one complete and stunning sound, the ever-increasing power, the feeling of damn- near drowning in it – of losing all sense of self as it takes over entirely, the sensation of being on the very edge of a knife-point and the wonder of whether or not it will actually push you right over and pull you deep under – and yet seeming to stop just short of doing exactly that.
In another twist, ‘This Is A Lift’ couldn’t be more stripped back, clean, crisp vocals over an uncomplicated melody and instrumentation at a bare minimum; a stark contrast to the vast and at times overwhelming sounds of the rest of the album. They’ve almost come full- circle with final song ‘Sand’, in their winning formula of slight beginnings, and again with the many layers, gradually coming together in gorgeous, breathtaking swells that soon turns into something truly beautiful and something far bigger than you ever thought possible, overwhelming every sense and emotion, stirring your very soul and delighting the heart bringing what really is a truly stunning record to a close, leaving you desperate for so much more.
Flutes really is a stunning debut, one to treasure and keep – easily one of the best of 2012, and Flutes are surely a band worth watching closely. I, for one, am eager for whatever could possibly come next.
Release Date: 3rd December 2012