She’s not quite of this earth, Kathryn Joseph.
But whilst this magical creature seems borne of the ether, the music she makes is firmly rooted in blood and bone. Inspired by a heartbreak (a pause in her relationship with her partner, who’s caught in a stolen moment playing piano on the intro), it’s the latest product of her creative partnership with Marcus Mackay and the follow-up to 2015’s ‘bones you have thrown me’.
It’s a document of love, that charts its living and breathing, death and resurrection. What it feels like to have. How it feels when it leaves. What it makes, and what it takes. And it’s gut-wrenchingly honest on the price it makes us pay.
There’s a new sensuality – lyrics littered with tongues licking clean, desire felt down to the marrow – “in my mouth, in my mind, in my back and my spine”. And there’s musical muscularity too, leant through the rolling piano that courses like blood, spiked with electronics. Joseph’s a shapeshifter, moving like waves. The language of symbolism tells us water means emotion, and the record’s awash with metaphor. “Tell my lover it’s not over till we drown,” she intones on its strongest track, as she clings to the edge, resisting the current.
Yet there’s far more than a love affair at stake. On ‘there is no god but you’ (written in response to a serious illness in her family), there’s a girl in the river, caught in a whirlpool of cascading piano, as life hangs in the balance. But this Ophelia doesn’t drown. And neither does the love at the heart of this storm.
By the time we reach closer ‘^^’, minor has turned to major. Eve, the first girl, echoes her mother’s voice at the start of the record, as she reads us a poem. It’s interesting that the contributions from her partner and her daughter are spelled out with symbols. Love is too big to put into words. Grief is a wave which could wash us away. We feel both in our skin – they live in our blood and the very cells of us.
She’s broken the curse, she’s woven a spell – and the self-described ‘luckiest little Scottish witch in the world’ is safe to cackle back off into the night, having created possibly the best album we’ll hear all year.
Words: Marianne Gallagher
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