The digital version of the debut long player from Kodiak Island is set to sweep in on the web-surf this weekend. And as befits the album’s title, those shelling out should quickly get the bigger, aesthetically-pleasing picture.
The Golden Section carries on where vocalist/guitarist Jo Bartlett left off with her most recent solo platters, Upheaval and 9 by 7. This time though, she’s with a band, namely fellow ex-Bluetrain survivor Richard Handyside (guitar, flute, backing vocals, and production), Mike Muggeridge (bass) and Gareth Palmer (cajon, percussion, backing vocals).
Why Kodiak Island? I could be flippant, blow the dust off an old joke and say, ‘Alaska’, but I can see where they’re coming from. Besides, an island that is home to Kodiak bears and king crabs conjures up a far more enduring image than Winnersh Triangle might (come to think of it though, that does sound pretty intriguing).
While letting on that the name was inspired by Werner Herzog’s 2005 documentary Grizzly Man and its Richard Thompson soundtrack, I’ll go deeper and suggest correlations between the music and the name. There’s an Americana influence for starters, and like the island itself it’s all some distance from the mainstream (as befitting a place far removed from its parent state, the union’s most remote). But forget the geographic analogies and parallels for now. Let’s concentrate on the music.
First thing I’ll say is not to expect a power-pop four-piece, for everything appears measured, at least in a tapered-back ‘less is more’ sense. It’s never safe, yet there are no over-played histrionics – just honest, semi-acoustic fare. If you like labels, the band suggest psychedelic or indie folk, and I can see that. And if you know Jo’s back-catalogue, you kind of know what you’re getting into.
At the risk of suggesting another geographical link, opening track Frozen in Time – as heard in a more meditative form on Upheaval – sees us off on something of a journey, the under-stated vocals propelled by a driving cajon beat suggesting a ride into the unknown, taking me back to Bluetrain. In fact, it could almost be a signature tune for that long-lost indie outfit. And across the tracks there’s certainly the feel of a rediscovered album, re-recorded and given fresh vitality.
Remembered Days carries on that vibe, its Billy Bragg meets Rodney Allen feel reminiscent of those ‘80s jangly roots – more so than recent JB projects – while Known World is part Fleetwood Mac, part Go-Betweens, its main riff reminiscent of the latter’s splendid 1988 single Was There Anything I Could Do?
Fellow reworked Upheaval cuts Spanish Steps and Take Me To Water – while they work well in acoustic format – also stand out with a full band, Mike’s bass plod under-pinning a proper group vibe on the former, while it’s all a little more trance-like (can I add ‘trance folk’ or ‘trip-hop folk’ to that earlier description?) on the latter – a dreamy, Portishead-esque effects-driven track edging towards and beyond a bluesy guitar break (seemingly recorded in the next room).
Next up, luscious bass, acoustic guitar and Jo’s higher-register vocal – stretched but never over-taxing – punctuate The Sooner, another catchy single, building to a fitting percussion and flute-fuelled finale. Invention is clearly a hallmark here, and what could be just a light strum on the album version of further single Rowan and Rose receives extra lift via lush chord changes and timely diversions. For me it conjures up images of darting down sun-baked back-streets towards open countryside, a psychedelic premise kicking in.
We’re back to the shoreline for the pensive yet somehow joyous Counting Ships, in what appears to be something of a hymn to absent friends and lovers, again with a laid-back other-worldly feel. And as re-nailing songs seems to be a recurring theme – keen to see them afforded wider appeal – on this album we have a fresh take on It’s Jo and Danny’s The Real Thing. It fits perfectly too, and I’m all for this song finally breaking, not least with that poignant ‘Summer left, and it took me’ line.
That takes us neatly to show-stopping ’70s psych-disco stomper Second Around Time, Richard’s flute suggesting optimism ahead, that Hues Corporation bassline and Crosby Stills & Nash feel (from rocked boat to Marrakesh Express, perhaps) inspiring a mighty conga towards a carnival of delights. Some enchanted evening, indeed. Again, Jo’s voice is relatively constrained, a welcome antidote to all those talent-show squawkers over-projecting for the sake of it. For it’s the band doing the musical talking here. And from geography to geometry, like The Golden Section itself, this whole journey is pleasing to ears and eyes alike.
To order a digital copy of Kodiak Island’s The Golden Section, check out these iTunes, 7Digital, Amazon and HMV links. There’s also a CD version, priced £5 plus p&p, available by messaging the band on their Facebook page or hassling them at gigs. And to keep in touch with Kodiak Island, not least with shows currently being lined up to promote the album, head to the same source.