Rob St John – Weald

Released by Song, by Toad Records earlier this month was Lancashire born Rob St John’s Weald. Throughout the album are collaborations with Pennycook, Humberstone, Brendon Massai, Tom Bauchop, Malcolm Benzie, Owen Williams, Tom Western and Seb Reynolds. This LP takes me back to university evenings spent listening to under-rated musicians at open mic nights consisting of guitar plus man. Each song has a back story, each more heartbreaking than the last.

Rob’s voice is full of anguish far beyond his mere twenty-odd years, brimming with a deep resonance that you’d associate only with age and wisdom. His lyrics “When I was a younger man…” in ‘Vanishing Points’ are as believable as if Tom Jones were to sing them. The opening song ‘The Phantom Limb’ has a catchy, folky melody and is full of delicate backing vocals over a gentle snare drum and clean singing guitar notes. With his voice at the forefront, the melody line is untainted and quickly becomes memorable.

‘Sargasso Sea’ brings in a more obvious drum beat and feels therefore far more rhythmic, and taking the attention off his voice a little bit for this song. If there was to be a hit single from this album, this would be it.

‘Vanishing Points’ hypnotises me. The song is 5 minutes long and when it ends I have that feeling you get when you watch a particularly deep film in the cinema – that need to gradually phase back into reality, when you don’t understand how everyone else has already grabbed their coats and headed for the exit. ‘The Acid Test’ strips right back to raw guitar sounds after the thick texture created by the end of the previous song. Backing vocals join him every now and then in a stunning harmony lasting only three syllables that are small yet perfectly formed.

‘Stainforth Force’ is more of an epic. The clean strings suspended on a breathy high note makes me think this would be the perfect accompaniment to a 80s tearjerking movie scene, before switching now to a bluesy number ‘Domino’, where his voice takes on more of a ballad style. The instrumentation is more like a traditional band with this one, and he’s singing out above a heavy walking drum beat.

The pace picks up momentarily for the penultimate song ‘Emma’s Dance’, a more Spanish-sounding guitar only tune demanding some serious dexterity. At just over 2 minutes long, it provides a short but sweet interlude before slowing back down again to end with ‘An Empty House’, a slow and tranquil beauty with his voice in the spotlight, accompanied by a constant harmonium and an occasional guitar chord or unobtrusive backing singer.

If there’s one thing I’ve learnt from this LP, it’s that you don’t need heavy production or even a drum kit in every song to reach a musical thrill. This LP is complete in its eerie simplicity.

 

 

Released on 21st November 2011 by Song, by Toad Records