Some music seems to simultaneously come from the indefinable in-between places and yet also from far away, imbued with contrasting dark mystery and shimmering light. Strangers, the latest entrancing album from Rise, is born from those places. Strangers shows a significant shift towards a far more improvisational and impressionistic style of song writing and performance for Rise. Whilst her previous album, An Abandoned Orchid House, had hints of Alice in Wonderland whimsy and pastoral enchantments (albeit entwined with sinister overtones), Strangers is altogether more ethereal and darker in atmosphere.
18 months in gestation, Strangers marks the transition of ‘Talitha Rise’ into ‘Rise’, the new stage name for the talented Jo Beth Young, also signifying the cessation of Jo Beth’s previous writing and production collaboration with Martyn Baker. Rise has shared that the foundation for the songs on this album are all improvisations which she hones into ‘multi-faceted, deeply textured’ songs. This method of song writing means the songs seem strangely suspended somewhere between organic spontaneity and highly polished fully formed pieces. Layer upon layer of fine instrumentation and effects form the songs, repaying repeated listens as the songs take time to reveal their subtleties.
Rise has shared the inspiration behind the title track – she recalled a line from a David Gray song, Only the Lonely, that said, “And when we meet again we will be strangers”, echoing the underlying themes on this album of loss, triumph and healing:
“Come back, your hurt is always welcome here
Oh, fields of yellow disappear.
Give me some of your great light.”
The piece is soaked in sadness that the man she loved before the war has come back changed – there is such pain and yet so much love and healing. Rise’s voice swoops and swirls like a murmuration of starlings in the sky over gently chiming pianos, melancholic violin and atmospheric guitar lines. This is no conventional song with chorus and verse – this is more of a stream of fragile, inchoate emotion laid out on a subtly changing musical canvas. There is a very real sense that whilst ostensibly this may be a song about the impact of a soldier returning from war there are also parallels in Rise’s personal experiences. There is too much emotion in the song for it not to be rooted in her own heart.
The album starts ominously with the mysterious luminescence of Dark Cloud which reflects a realisation that one may have been through darker experiences than one previously realised, as Rise’s voice, full of pain, sings “We’re all dancing with death, the cold hand of truth” over Helen Ross’s emotional violin… but there is light in the darkness and hope in the conclusion “You’re coming back real soon”.
The following Temples is more conventional in form with a powerful repetition of lines about sacrifices in the temples we make for ourselves played over Ross’s sorrowful violin, Ric Byers echoing softly played eerie percussion and eventually a subtle electric guitar effect. Temples is hypnotic and almost hymnal in nature.
Jo Beth Young has suggested Cry Back Moon is “Earth’s love letter to the Moon” and recently said at a gig that it felt like “Snow at night on Dartmoor”, which seems like a perfect description for this beautiful song. Her strong voice soars above the gently tripping piano and Ross’s violin floats in and around her voice like some sort of mating lovebird.
The ambient soundscapes are particularly pronounced on Burnt Offerings, which Rise wrote to “all of us misfits belonging together, those of us that still think life can be lived differently, more kindly, more honourably and more wisely than we are commonly led to believe…”, which sadly seems more timely than ever. Skysailing features the entrancing violin skills of Helen Ross as her swallow-like music soars and swoops over the song, whilst Ben Roberts’ beautiful cello notes anchor us as we look skywards.
This an album soaked in atmosphere with a strong sense of a connection to the landscape. Rise reveals she wrote some of it in a 600-year-old Welsh farmhouse and rural Ireland, and you can hear the ghosts and spirits of those locations deep within the notes and words.
Rise describes the title song Strangers and concluding The Old Woman’s Sewing Song as the “anchors of the album”, in which she wanted to try something “different and free”. Old Woman’s Sewing Song lasts over 9 entrancing minutes, starting with an extended gentle, tentative piano and then rising with hypnotising notes from Helen Ross on violin:
“I’m just the one who sews the leather, I’m just the one who holds it together
Hold on, hold on, hold on, hold on…”
This is a heart-breaking and beautiful song and there is no mistaking that these stories, these emotions very much pour from a woman’s perspective and heart.
If you’re looking for an album of songs with conventional forms and catchy choruses or ‘earworm’ hooks you may be looking in the wrong place. If you’re wanting to break free of those forms and immerse yourself deeply in intuitive, emotional, unpredictable and ethereal music with elements of folk, rock and art-pop then dive right in. It’s worth sticking with as the music reveals itself over time more and more.
Strangers is a special piece of work written from the heart but played with consummate skill. It’s really hard sometimes trying to put some things into words. This is music and words that feel like they were formed in that semi-conscious ‘in between’ world of being half awake / half asleep as we awake… a state of mind that feels almost out of reach but is filled with half formed bittersweet emotions.
Maybe that’s nonsense… sometimes words just do not say enough and that’s why we need music. Strangers says it all so it beautifully.
01. Dark Cloud (5:07)
02. Temples (5:17)
03. Strangers (6:32)
04. Cry Back Moon (5:00)
05. Burnt Offerings (6:28)
06. Rabbit Eyes (3:26)
07. Radio Silence (5:37)
08. Skysailing (4:15)
09. The Old Sewing Woman’s Song (9:11)
Total Time – 50:53
Rise (aka Jo Beth Young) – Vocals, Pianos, Guitars, Stringed Things, Arrangement
Peter Yates – Electric Guitars, Ebow, Keyboards, Radio Sounds
Jules Bangs – Bass
Matthew Rochford – Electric Guitars, eBow
Helen Ross – Violin
Ben Roberts – Cello
Ric Byer – Drums
Matt Blackie – Beats, Programmed Drums, Synths
Cleo the Dog – Barking (track 5)
Record Label: Wise Queen Records
Country of Origin: U.K.
Date of Release : 18th October 2019
(Released under former name of ‘Talitha Rise’)
– Blue EP (2017) (originally released in 2014)
– An Abandoned Orchid House (2018)
(Released under current name of ‘Rise’)
– Strangers (2019)