Tissø Lake is the songwriting outlet of Ian Humberstone, the Edinburgh-based co-founder of the label Folklore Tapes, and Paths To The Foss is his fourth album under that name. While writing much of the material, Humberstone lived and worked in the shadow of Ovsthusfossen, the Norwegian waterfall that inspired the album’s title, and the opening track, Drifting, is a suitably damp and icy instrumental that grows organically out of a field recording of melting icicles. It nods to the more ambient or experimental facets of his past work, but in that respect is somewhat misleading: the majority of this record is a testament to the power of songwriting and a vehicle for Humberstone’s idiosyncratic baritone and his wonderfully restrained delivery.
The title track is a lyrical introduction to the waterfall that inspired the album, with an almost jazzy combination of bass and drums, and Robin Spottiswoode’s quietly experimental violin. Adrift In Dream has an introduction that recalls early 1970s folk-rock in the vein of Trees or Jade, but Humberstone’s distinctive voice – like a more vulnerable Bill Callahan – gives the song an identity of its own. The disorienting melody of the outro has an almost Bjorkish plink to it.
I Am The Lake sounds like Tindersticks if Stuart Staples had grown up in rural Norway rather than urban Nottingham. And again there are similarities to Smog, but where Callahan often compares himself to a river, all movement and instability, Humberstone revels in stillness, and the clarity it can bring. Or more accurately, Humberstone’s songs exist in the murky boundaries between stasis and movement, rest and work. The lyrics become incantatory: ‘like a lake I am unending, like a lake I am still, like a lake the moon is in my eye, like a lake I am cold.’
Let Us Go begins as a repeated, multi-voiced chorus (with a guest slot from Eva Klemensen), a la Dylan’s All The Tired Horses, before turning into a quietly impassioned plea, while The Mist On The Lake is an organ-led instrumental, again tapping into the freakier end of the British folk-rock scene. Ovsthusfossen is the centrepiece of the album, and it broods and twinkles in equal measure. The narrator cuts his hair and watches it float away – his actions are an offering to the river and at the same time an assertion of humanity and its affinity with nature. An eternal, shifting organ runs through the substantial length of the song and is joined by unhurried violins.
When Work Is Done has the simplicity of great Norwegian rural poets like Olav Hauge and Hans Børli, and in Thou Dusky Spirit Of The Wood Humberstone’s voice is double-tracked, Richard Youngs style, parting from itself like a spirit from its body, before the song reaches a crescendo of sorts as organ, bass and drums crash together. Perhaps most beautiful of all is There Is No Other (In Which One May Stay). The tentative interplay between piano and guitar is wonderful, but it is Humberstone’s vocal delivery that really makes the song. Indeed the whole album rests in the cradle of that singular voice. Paths To The Foss is a superb piece of work, warm, uncluttered and alive. The perfect record to accompany you through a dark Scandinavian winter.
Paths to the Foss it Out Now on ITLAN
Tissø Lake will be celebrating the release of Paths to the Foss with a full-band performance at the Wee Red Bar on 14th January. Eagleowl are co-headlining. Advance tickets on sale here.