Locks – Skeletal Blues
Zen Ten – 4 May 2018
While superbly complemented by double bassist Mike Byrne and fiddle player Marian McClenagan, it is singer Locks Geary-Griffin and drummer/percussionist Andy Marvell who mostly define the sound of this London-based alt-folk outfit Locks. An amalgam of Nick Cave murder ballads inspired dark folk sung in her smoky, sinuous tones and his insistent tribal-like drumming that bears the distinctive influence of Adam and the Ants filtered through Tom Waits’ rusty junkyard, they call it skeletal blues.
Following a squelching, scrunching noise, the album explodes with the surging percussive charge of Bodies, McLenagan’s fiddle scraping away while Geary-Griffin unfolds an unsettling lyric about digging up bodies on the moors that feels like an unholy mix of an archaeological dig and Brady and Hindley.
Maintaining an anatomical thread that weaves through the album, Skeletons shifts the pace to a voodoo snake rhythm and almost Eastern European melody with yet more uneasy lyrics that variously hint at mental illness and those skeletons in the closet “tight packed at the back of the mind.”
The second one-word title Skin rides an infectiously catchy skittering rhythm and melodic hooks, the double bass throbbing and bells clanging with Locks warning of a demonic, vampiric lover devouring your life. Mirrors reins it in for an intimate, hushed introduction to what unfolds into jazzier shapes fiddle soaring way behind the choppy syncopated double bass and percussion, another number about things buried inside gnawing away at the soul, Locks bursting into a cry of ‘God won’t you save me’ midway.
Set atop a galumphing rhythm, In The City initially seems to lighten the lyrical mood as she sings about seeing her friend down at the harbour, bathed in amber, fire in her eyes. Only for the fire to be that of anger, revenge on her mind, presumably over some cheating lover, as she makes her way into town “lining your new wooden bed six feet underground.”
It’s off to hell then for Devil and Me, the opening bassline hinting at the Pink Panther theme, around which the percussion skitters and the vocals prowl through a lyric about it all being a bit overcrowded down there, the fiddle adding a sort of sinister folk dance touch that reminded me of Mike Evans in Stackridge.
The Chase is another snakey rhythm track with Eastern European undertones, the song suggesting it might have been inspired by The Purge with its lines about being hunted down at night by packs out for blood. Hunting on the scent of blood, woods and things being buried are the prime ingredients as Byrne steps up the mark again, plucking the bass for the breathily sung Toes with its undulating rhythms. The percussion’s particularly clattering on the blues-inflected, furiously fiddling White Tape, the second song this year (following Reg Meuross’s The Angel Maker on Songs About A Train) about Amelia Dyer, the Victorian serial killer who, it is estimated, murdered some 400 babies that she’d supposedly taken info fostering and adoption. Not only is it stylistically very different to Reg’s disarmingly gentle song, but the lyrics make complicit those who turned a blind eye and dumped the children claiming it was in their best interest.
The mention of NOLA in the lyrics about a decapitated broken body washing up on the riverbed indicating the title refers to the infamous witch queen of New Orleans, Marie Laveau, it ends with the most Ants-like jittery drumming on the five minute plus Laveau, Marvell and Byrne laying down the rhythmic bedrock behind the conspiratorial vocals, the track briefly taking a dramatic musical swerve midway into more deliberate narcotic blues territory before the Irish folk shades of McLenaghan’s fiddle take the spotlight for the near two-minute instrumental play out.
Given the dominance of the often similarly sounding percussion arrangements, it might be argued that it could have done with a little more rhythmic diversification, but even so there is a hypnotic, imaginative and unique approach to contemporary urban folk that marks them out as one of the most distinctive names to have emerged in the past few years.
Skeletal Blues is Out Now. Order via Picadilly Records