Emerging dishevelled, with straw in their hair and manure on their boots, from a commune in deepest Herefordshire, and sharing members with the equally rustic Sproatly Smith, Heed the Thunder are perfectly placed to act as standard-bearers for their county’s small but impressive agri-psych scene. ‘Agri-psych? That’s just something you’ve made up,’ I hear you cry. But no, it is an actual thing (read the FRUK feature), and quite an interesting one at that. Fusing elements of classic British folk-rock, gothic country and skiffle, decorating it all in the colours of bucolic paganism and delivering it with the seed drill of catchy songwriting, the genre formerly known as ruralcore is beginning to create quite a stir. Heed the Thunder’s new album, Cokaigne, looks set to become something of a benchmark.
The record is produced by the wonderfully named Hieronymus Melchers, who has previously worked with the likes of John Grant and The Low Anthem. It comes as no surprise then to hear a clear, spacious and country-tinged sound materialise at the outset. Blackest Night begins with just the voices of Alex Gordon and Kate Gathercole, before an intertwining banjo and guitar kick in. Not for nothing have Gathercole and Gordon been compared to Jacqui McShee and Bert Jansch. But the influences come from the rock world as much as from folk. Interested In People, particularly its middle section, carries more than a trace of Jimmy Page’s acoustic guitar work on Led Zeppelin III. There is a moment on That’s the Way, from that Zeppelin album, when dulcimer, steel guitar, mandolin and bass all do their thing at the same time but it never feels crowded, just perfectly layered, and Heed the Thunder seem capable of a similar level of playing and arranging.
Basilisk too starts with that Page-esque or Roy Harper-esque acoustic guitar before spiralling into a wonderfully chaotic horn freakout, like Beirut or Neutral Milk Hotel playing Love’s Forever Changes. Street Life brings together an acoustic country-rock strum and a languid piano melody. Musically it almost resembles classic-era Neil Young, even more so when you factor in the Crazy Horse-style strangled electric guitar yelps that keep the song keen. The Neil Young influence doesn’t stop there. The banjo on Drink Up and Go recalls Young’s use of the same instrument on For the Turnstiles, while the song’s melody bears more than a passing resemblance to Harry Chapin’s Cat’s in the Cradle. Will To Succeed is a simple country love song with the interplay between banjo and guitar once again playing an important part, and the band’s rural lyrical leanings coming to the fore.
The album’s most unusual song is Horrible Condition, a darkly rowdy singalong that sounds like it would be more at home in an East London boozer than a field in the Welsh Marches. It’s a weird combination of the Kinks and the Pogues that the band manage to carry off with lustful exuberance. Lucky Man, the final song, is barely less unusual, coming to life to the strains of a wonky, jazzy trumpet. Its atmosphere of bierkeller cabaret is almost Brechtian, and it exemplifies the taut strangeness and the endless flow of musical ideas that can be found all over this varied and impressive little album.
Review by: Thomas Blake
Cockaigne is out Now. Available on Bandcamp
Saturday 28th November 7pm, Sharron Kraus &Sproatly Smith at Hinton Community Centre. Click here for more information.
Wednesday 10th December 7pm, Sharron Kraus & Harriet Earis with Heed the Thunder and Mark Stevenson at Canon Frome Court. Click here for tickets.
ALSO: Folk Radio UK Presents
The Levels Collective
Saturday 13th December Sproatly Smith & Bill Caddick – Bridgwater Art Centre, Somerset. Click here for tickets.