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Joe Volk - Happenings and Killings

  by Malcolm Carter

published: 30 / 5 / 2016

Joe Volk - Happenings and Killings
Label: Glitterhouse Records
Format: CD


Working closely with Portishead’s Geoff Barrow and Emmy-nominated composer Ben Salisbury, Bristol’s Joe Volk delivers an album of nine dream-like soundscapes

Currently based in Bern, Switzerland, Bristol’s Joe Volk recently released his latest album on Glitterhouse Records. Volk is no newcomer to the music business; he was one of the first musicians to be signed to Invada Records which was founded by Portishead’s Geoff Barrow who also lends a hand in the production of some of the songs on the album. Volk has a smooth, breathy vocal style and it’s this coupled with his distinctive acoustic guitar that forms the backbone of this album. But ‘Happenings And Killings’ is far from a collection of stripped-down singer/songwriter songs. The opening cut, ‘Bampfylde Moore Carew’, features just Volk’s vocals and guitar along with harmonium from both Volk and Ben Salisbury, Guy Metcalfe from Salisbury on drums and backing vocals and starts with a pretty melody picked out by Volk’s acoustic before Metcalfe makes an appearance. When Volk’s vocals come in, despite the minimal musical backing, the sound is unexpectedly full. It’s obvious this early in that Volk and his contributors are building soundscapes rather than producing three-minute pop songs. Of the nine Volk-penned tracks the one that seems to be attracting the most attention (although ‘Soliloquy’ has been singled out for the video treatment) is ‘These Feathers Count' probably due to the fact that it owes a little to mid-seventies Pink Floyd as the song opens, but by being placed halfway through the album by now the listener is aware that Volk is can be relied upon to deliver the unexpected. The song suddenly takes off in an altogether different direction, the vocal harmonies being replaced by driving bass lines and drum beats while electronic sounds pick out the melody before the vocals come back to reclaim the song. While much of the album conjures up a dreamy atmosphere this song displays more of an experimental side to the music Volk makes. While part of Volk’s appeal is in his unusual but instantly likeable vocal style, he is joined on 'Sirens' by Nadine Gingell and again it’s a song that shifts and changes as it develops. Thomas Elgie’s harmonica lends a wistful vibe to the opening before the laid-back vocals come in, with Gingel’s vocals adding a haunting quality to the song and the various instruments coming in it develops into one of the most interesting tracks on the album. The most surprising thing about the album is that for all the experimentation, (‘The Thief Of Ideals’ is full of tiny references from the mid-sixties to the present day while still retaining the uniqueness that makes Volk’s music so fascinating) the album actually holds together extremely well. It sounds like Volk or those close to him have spent some time sequencing the album as while no two songs are uncomfortably alike and the sound ranges from acoustic folk to experimental prog as a whole the album hangs together perfectly. ‘Is Pyramid’ is a fine example of where Volk is coming from; mixing folk with more experimental, electronic sounds it encapsulates the whole album in one song. Like most of ‘Happenings And Killings’, the beauty in both the song and in Volk’s distinctive vocal isn’t hidden beneath the surface but there for all to hear and experience immediately which is rare in work which is as complex as these songs are at times. Saving ‘Yellow Sneak’ for the closing track was a smart move. Introducing the strings of the Bristol Ensemble Orchestra and French Horn surprisingly brings out Volk’s most delicate vocals on the album. It makes for an intimate vocal performance, is a beautiful way to end the album and honestly leaves the listener with but one choice, which is to play it over again. Joe Volk with ‘Happenings And Killings’ has made, with a handful of like-minded collaborators, a beautiful, fascinating album that might just, given his lazy, dream-like vocal style and stimulating melodies prove to be the album to keep close to hand this summer.

Track Listing:-
1 Bampfylde Moore Carew
2 Soliloquy
3 The Walker
4 These Feathers Count
5 Sirens
6 The Thief of Ideals
7 Is Pyramid
8 The Curve
9 Yellow Sneak

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