Former Poet Laureate John Masefield has never been seen as cutting edge. Once an establishment favourite, his simple, guileless poems are now more likely to be found on GCSE syllabuses and in decidedly middle-of-the-road anthologies. It would take a brave set of musicians to take on one of his most well-known works and make it sound fresh, but that is exactly what Spitdust have done on the second track of their new album Underneath My Wing. All I Ask takes Masefield’s Sea Fever and filters it through a loose net of lysergic 70s folk, à la Mellow Candle or the Trees. It works strangely and irresistibly well, the repetition of the images and Ros Mizen’s airy vocals lending a suitably outdoorsy feel to proceedings. It is not the first time Sea Fever has been set to music, but it is the best example I have heard, certainly eclipsing composer John Ireland’s famous and weirdly sombre version.
But there are many other strings to Spitdust’s bow. The title track begins as lo-fi indie, almost like a lost Sarah Records recording with Mizen’s singing underpinned by jangly acoustic guitar. It soon branches off into several different directions as co-lead vocalist Mike Davies takes over and the song ends in a squally guitar section. Mizen’s voice again dominates the gentle The Letter, which provides a fresh take on some old folk tropes, while Davies’ chant-like delivery lends power to the electric folk of opener Pulpit Rock.
With further listening, subtler influences reveal themselves. The album’s centrepiece, Headlight, is cinematic in its scope: Dan Little’s smoky, brooding electric guitars reference dream pop and the soundtracks of Angelo Badalamenti. The oddness of the final part of The Lunatic and the lushness of Belong occasionally recall The Cocteau Twins, before the latter ends in cacophonous, almost industrial percussion.
Much of Underneath My Wing’s appeal comes from its unusual string parts played by Paul Charisse on his specially made GuitarViol, an instrument that allows for bowed strings on a guitar-type body. The arrangements provide a pleasing chiaroscuro on songs like The Cabin where background dissonance and drone support a pretty, melancholic melody. And this is the essence of the whole album: prettiness is at once supported and undermined by something darker. It makes for an intriguing listen.
Review by: Thomas Blake