The apparently gadzillions of ASMR YouTube vids may be the buzz of the moment as Billie Eilish continues to storm our subconscious one auditory stimuli at a time, but modern folk has long since frolicked in the outlands of its genre, using traditional vocal layering and instrumental tricks to create increasingly intriguing aural pleasures. However, about half way through listening to Gia Margaret’s There’s Always Glimmer for the first time, I noted the rest of this belated UK release isn’t as progressive or subtly tingle inducing as its stunning opener ‘Groceries’. The gently warped, detuned guitar and Farfisa, and its “you let the light in when it’s dark” refrain is only matched by closer ‘West’, and together they bookend a challenging but often only frustrating record. If everything else is the metaphorical shelf in between, There’s Always Glimmer expertly ekes out half-formed tunes and teases rare nuggets from the knots and grains of the gnarled wood. A light dusting of familiar phrasings sit on splintered themes of childlike love, and vulnerabilities that drift through on an almost constant and tangled breeze. But, with artists like AA Williams and Emma Ruth Rundle already releasing an EP and LP respectively of masterfully gloomy folk influences in the last year, it was an immediate indicator of how There’s Always Glimmer opts for a delicate but simple position within the trad part of the diagram.
Borrowing from electro folk in style, but without the digital adornments, adds to the disquieting sparsity like an unfurnished house or a meadow without birdsong. It’s an ethereal feeling of yearning, of stepping into a dream where something is not quite right. Melodies are little more than embellishments that seemingly pop in and out of existence, chord structures build and then disperse like butterflies, an assortment of chimes and horns are strangely familiar yet frustratingly unknown. Choruses, as they are, perturb more often than delight. Highlight ‘For Flora’ is a piano lesson and an overheard phone call, the homesickness perceptible. ‘Smoke’, with its spectral two-note accompaniment and gentle bells extends the ghost-folk genre, but without challenging its status quo. A brief oboe punctuates overlapping vocals, as emotions tumble in slow motion and the phrase “in our bed” becomes overpowering the more you hear it, and then it’s gone. A net curtain billows. And, ‘Wayne’ is little more than two verses but with the vocal reduced to the essence and positioned just above the warm minimalism of the production, as if whispered from the depths of solace.
So, as the conflicted crackling of ‘West’ fades out into a silent cacophony of barely audible vagaries (and a click track as if recoupling to real time) there are a few seconds of abandoned reflection and empty contemplation. Like a shelf without any books.
There’s Always Glimmer finally gets its UK release on 24th May through Dalliance Recordings.