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17th Century Japanese Aviary – Inti Rowland Review

17th Century Japanese Aviary – Inti Rowland Review

inti-rowlandReleased: April 2015

Recorded in just six days, this debut release by London-based singer-songwriter Inti Rowland bears both the advantages and disadvantages of a record produced in a quick burst of time. Moments of spontaneous inspiration are dotted around an album that for the most part begs for a little more time to be worked on, as the tortured 17th Century Japanese Aviary continually tries to figure out just what it wants to be.

Having been brought up by an artistic mother in a very natural environment, Rowland’s move to London where a great number of shows and self-released EPs helped to mould him as an artist is what led to the creation of this flawed but promising debut studio album. His grassroots background certainly helps to develop a folk sound that will doubtlessly arouse the interests of any fans of soothing acoustic balladry, yet the concise nature of this record’s recording certainly makes itself known, as a variety of indie-folk tropes and ideas fail to be fully developed.

Opening with the cooling Mongolian Hunters, a track that displays all the hallmarks of true folk escapism, Rowland states his case as an artist aiming to summon the earthly and natural with tenderly picked acoustic guitars and a plethora of spiritual woodwind melodies. Ballad of the Ballroom Ghost follows the same format with added reverberating drums that inject a sense of gravitas to an otherwise stripped back and minimalist track. This is something Rowland continues to attempt as he persistently aims to shake up the classic folk ballad format.

Disappointingly the skilled guitarist fails too many times to do exactly that. More interested in his intricate, and admittedly rousing, guitar technicalities, Rowland so often casts aside texture and melody as irrelevant features, making songs such as Beaten Battered But Bold and the album’s title track decidedly dull affairs. He has a nice enough voice, but carrying such songs with a bare voice and an acoustic guitar is a struggle for Rowland, whose lack of innovation outside of his six strings is punished by some very flat, uninspired music.

This doesn’t account for the entire record however, far from it in fact. A particular highlight is penultimate number Masks of Winter, which sees the artist sing amongst a full instrumental outfit; the drum kit presents a unique beat to a 3/4 time signature alongside the gorgeous strings of both an orchestral arrangement and Rowland’s consistently brilliant guitar work. It’s an undeniably emphatic track that kicks his traditional folk sound into action, and serves as a testament to the artist’s ability to rework the genre when necessary.

17th Century Japanese Aviary doesn’t always fill its potential, but when it does, when Inti Rowland exercises his ability to adapt the folk genre to suit his own innovative means, it’s a truly thrilling record. What cannot be denied, however, is the fact that only about half the tracks on here will linger in the listener’s mind, no matter how long those particular songs will linger for. A solid effort for a first-timer, but in need of plenty of development.


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