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The Unthanks - Mount The Air (Review)

The Unthanks, Mount The Air

Review by Jack Foley

IndieLondon Rating: 2 out of 5

Mount The Air marks the first studio album by The Unthanks since Last was released four years ago. But whether it was worth the wait is dependent on how experimental you like your music.

As Uncut noted following the release of that last album: “The Unthanks seem to regard folk music the same way Miles Davis regarded jazz: as a launch pad for exploring the wider possibilities.” Which is to say that they don’t necessarily conform to what’s expected.

Hence, Mount The Air is shot through with epic but slow-building songs that are often quite minimalist and reserved. It may well test the patience of those that don’t already know their work.

Album opener and title track clocks in at 10 minutes and is self-consciously evocative of Miles Davis and Gill Evans in their Sketches of Spain period. But it really sets their stall out for what to expect as well. At least two more songs extend to such generous lengths but in each case, you have to be in the right kind of mood to hear them.

If anything, the album screams out for a song to really grab you. Instead, it often smacks of self-indulgence.

Even the supposedly epic finale, Waiting, forces you to wait for it… the same string and guitar arrangement going around for a minute and a half before anything really changes. And then barely.

On another track, Magpie, spooky harmony vocals from Rachel and Becky disorientate somewhat, especially when set against a minimalist but eerie backing. It’s hardly relaxing despite being one of the more striking examples of the band’s desire to stretch themselves and be different.

But perhaps most frustrating is the fact that The Unthanks have amassed such a bank of talent to help them deliver this album. For starters, it’s the first Unthanks record to feature writing from all five core members, including debut contributions from both Rachel and Becky Unthank, as well as continued and more extensive writing from pianist and producer Adrian McNally.

While world-class trumpeter Tom Arthurs, a former BBC New Generation Artist and Elysian Quartet collaborator, can also be found lurking on the aforementioned album opener.

The failure of Mount The Air to truly inspire is therefore felt all the more forcefully. Sadly, the wait wasn’t worth it.

Download picks: Autopilot, Human Again, Ready, Better, Everything Works Out in the End

Track listing:

  1. Mount The Air
  2. Madam
  3. Died For Love
  4. Flutter
  5. Magpie
  6. Foundling
  7. Last Lullaby
  8. Hawthorn
  9. For Dad
  10. The Poor Stranger
  11. Waiting