Released: July 2014
What does it mean, in 2014, to be a ‘folk’ act? The last few years haven’t been kind on the genre, not least thanks to acts like Mumford & Sons, Bon Iver and their derivatives effectively ‘jumping the shark’ with headline festival sets and songs in camera adverts, concepts that simply go against the raw, natural ethos that such bands try to emphasise. After this wave of ‘indie folk’ acts to gain audiences’ affections over the last ten years or so shot into the stratosphere, making the country bumpkin a thing to aspire to according to some corners of popular culture and fashion, it became hard to tell the farmers from the fakers, signalling the demise of a genre that for all its emphasis on roots and rawness had in reality become a great big manufactured mess.
However plenty of new acts still have faith in the sound of a banjo and a three part harmony when the rest of the world seems to have kind of fallen out of love with it. One of these is Neulore, who, fusing the German word for ‘new’ with the word ‘folklore’ (clever, eh?), look set to give the genre the kick up the backside it needs.
Mumford & Sons quit while they were ahead with just two albums of catchy, good natured but essentially formulaic music with a sell by date as imminent as the milk they’d like us all to thing they produce. Frank Turner’s work has taken a turn for the punky, whilst Fleet Foxes have also taken a break of sorts, unstressed by label constraints or deadlines, giving them time to get back to what they do best. So with all these modern folk heroes themselves realising that it’s time to pack it in, what can Neulore have to offer?
Animal Evolve presents aspects of modern folk music that both outline major problems with the genre and suggest that it may have a reason to continue. An unfortunately weighty chunk of the record recall dull Mumford album fillers and predictable vocal hooks that would serve as a great chapter in ‘Indie Kids for Dummies’, but for anyone with an actual interest in musical innovation beyond anthemic “Woah”s, tracks such as Shadow of a Man and Mercy! You Need Saving leave a lot to be desired.
Patience, however, is generously rewarded by the American duo as the texture and contrast of opener 3 and the tender falsetto of Don’t Shy from the Light inject life and intrigue into an album that seems to otherwise hold its cards close to its chest. Further into the record can be found the emotive Bloodstained Sonnet, which involves instrumentation almost as dark as its lyrics, and penultimate track Native Skin, a bluesy stomper of a song that draws influence from The Black Keys’ recent work with its fuzzy guitars, sharp synths and sensual backing vocals. It’s a raunchy, dangerous track, revealing a side to Neulore that should be explored further.
The Gathering Chant bears the warm and comforting lyrics “You are safe here from the wild”, a line that very much summarises the bulk of both this record and folk as a genre. For the most part Animal Evolve is safe, efficient, and tolerable. It’s David Moyes, it’s Super Noodles, it’s ADSA: it gets the job done. But on at least a third of this record Neulore prove that they can do more than that, they can be dangerous, they can be different. By cutting the chord of tradition this duo could help to bring folk back to the forefront of guitar music.