Kathryn Joseph – From When I Wake the Want Is (Rock Action)

Kathryn Joseph – From When I Wake the Want Is (Rock Action)

From When I Wake the Want is is Glasgow-based Kathryn Joseph’s second album.  Her 2015 debut, Bones You Have Thrown Me, and Blood I Have Spilled, netted her Scottish Album of the Year, and won plaudits for its intense, claustrophobic atmosphere.  She returned in 2017 with her regular collaborator, Marcus Mackay, to join forces with The Twilight Sad’s James Graham under the name Out Lines.  Rooted in a community project in Glasgow’s Easterhouse, the resulting album, Conflats, was another dark and magnificently difficult slice of still twitching emotion.  Then, earlier this year, The Cure’s Robert Smith conferred his indie-royalty seal of approval by inviting her to his Meltdown Festival to perform with Mogwai.

From When I Wake the Want is begins with Joseph on her piano, her voice a hesitant whisper, reciting a poem that you quickly realise is the record’s track listing.  It’s a mark of how consistent her aesthetic is that this come across so warmly.  Once she is joined by the multi-instrumentalist Marcus Mackay, the sounds become more purposeful, and after an introductory limbering up that introduces Joseph’s insistent, sensual vibrato, we arrive at the title track.  Here, as throughout the song threatens to dissolve into indistinct grunts and cries as she wheels about from chorus to verse.  It’s a stunning opener.

Mostly the songs are rhythmically anchored by Joseph’s churning, minimalistic piano riffs.  Mackay is left to expand upon these, layering unexpectedly rich electronic loops and noise bursts over his austere percussion work.  The effect is clearest is the chilling final verses of There is No God But You, where Joseph seems to be trilling and gurgling her desperate imprecation from beneath some deadly bend in a river.

Joseph has been at some pains to stress the truthfulness and lyrical honesty of her writing.  Her work is clearly deeply felt, but it may be best to approach this claim with some caution.  You will quickly lose count of the number of references to blood, rivers and drowning.  Take for instance the implacable sentiment behind Tell My Lover, where she coos menacingly, “tell my lover / that it’s not over / until we drown / in this river / of the blood / of what we’ve done”.  It’s stylised stuff, worthy of Nick Cave or Kate Bush, and it drips with horror and with wild, gothic imagination, and is absolutely none the worse for that.

The second half of the album takes a redemptive turn.  We Have Been Loved by Our Mothers could be the sound of someone stepping back from the brink, gathering their strength to face the broken, twisting gasps of realisation that punctuate Mouths Full of Blood, before pushing through into the bleak expansiveness of Mountain and Weight, and finally resolving itself in the album’s final lullaby-like epilogue.

Considering that Joseph was already 40 years old when Bones You Have Thrown Me, was released, and that she has claimed such a fully formed musical persona, what is most noticeable about From When When I Wake, is how bravely she has developed and opened up her sound.  Gone is the close, enclosed atmosphere of her first record, replaced with the claustrophobia of being alone under a suddenly darkened sky with no cover for miles.  This is a confident and mature assertion of the sheer, heart-in-your-mouth, power of nature, and of unrestrained love that threatens at any moment to take you down with it.  

From When I Wake The Want is is released on August 10th through Rock Action.

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