There was a rumour going round the other year that Kate Stables had decamped to France and given up making music. Thankfully, only half of it was true. Born in Winchester, but now based in Paris, where, indeed, she recorded both her last album and the foundations for this, the finishing touches being completed in Brooklyn under the auspices of The National’s Aaron Desnner as producer.
With her band always something of a fluid line-up, as well as regulars Rozi Plain, Jesse Vernon and Jamie Whitby-Coles, this time round her collaborators included both Desnner and his brother, Bryce, Beirut’s Benjamin Lanz and Matt Barrick from The Walkmen, and, if the title Bashed Out suggests it was simply flung together, the truth is that it’s an intricate, expansive, considered and organic affair that, five years on, marks a new level to her work and a new clarity to her voice.
Opening track, Misunderstanding, with its circling watery guitar pattern, chill violin and icy keyboards casts a glacially hypnotic spell but warmth quickly seeps in through the dreamy Silver John with its steady snare, chugging rhythm, the swell of brass that enfolds the woozy play-out and a lyric about some impending flood.
One of the more folksy tracks, and another of several that talk of wet weather, Spores Are Settling also sees the only major appearance of banjo, on which she’s something of a virtuoso, rippling away over the amorphous instrumentation before nervy fingerpicked acoustic guitar introduces Magic Spell, a playful number that has Kate singing di de di di di and repeating the words rare and remarkable, blossoming into swirls of sound that might have come from Talking Heads or, indeed, The National.
The title track itself is another atmospheric, ethereal affair where the tranquility of the music, with its woodwind, circular notes and echoey guitar solo, belies lines like “we’ve been getting most mightily filthy, mud marks up to our necks” and the thematic ambiguity of “blessed are those who see and are silent”, the hints of darkness shading into All In Cahoots, a breathily sung, slow, deliberate sway where she sings “neither of us to be trusted, are you? No one gets let through both in cahoots. What a duplicitous two.”
The brass makes a reappearance on Nits, its pastoral imagery of green hills populated by white woolly ‘happy little fatties’ couching lyrics about relying on one another, although, according to Vitamins, with its repetitive picked guitar line, sparse piano and brass, “all we need is the sea”, that and “some green leaves” to sort us right out.
The penultimate track, We Are In, opens with just her voice over a keyboard drone, repeating “today we are the same age” before slowly unfolding into an ambient soundspace about the need for connections. Finally comes Cold And Got Colder, the persistent strum and brass driving the track to a sonic crescendo that contrasts with the references to water (again), lying face down in the ice and being frozen, forgetting to breath (suggesting some sort of emotional stasis) as she repeats the refrain “Hook line and sinker. I miss it so strongly.” It may not always be clear what she’s singing about, but the quality of the music and her craft are unmistakable.
Review by: Mike Davies
Out Now via Brassland
Order via Bandcamp