Common Tongues are a Brighton-based five-piece indie-folk band that have been around for a while now, racking up multiple venue and festival appearances across the UK and Europe.
With their debut album ‘Divisions’ they’ve adopted an experimental approach, adding electronic instrumentation and a more powerful and progressive timbre to their work. It’s still indie-folk music – indeed they’ve got something in common with the recently-reviewed Cattle & Cane – but not as we know it, Captain.
The album took two years in the making and you can tell pretty quickly that some care as been lavished on it. Opening track ‘New Moon’ starts off as a regular folk piece but as soon as Tom Anderson’s rich raspy vocals cut in – his voice is not dissimilar at times from that of prog rocker Roger Chapman of Family – along with some fairly intricate guitar and keyboard work, you know this isn’t going to be typical ‘folk night’ fare.
There’s something of the 1970s about ‘Overturning’, with its complex, King Crimson-like arrangement and underlying keyboard melody you can’t shake off while ‘It Doesn’t Last Forever’ slows down into ballad territory before powering up towards the end as guitar and keyboards once again magically intertwine.
‘Accomplish’ takes them back to their folk roots but a degree of experimentation finds its way into the second half of the song in the form of a variety of electronic embellishments before ambient ear-pleasing electronics take over entirely for the final minute. Some bands and solo artists have the ability to mix folk and electronics in this fashion; Common Tongues certainly can.
‘Picture a Scene’ is a bit of a mish-mash, a complexly constructed song but one that lacks form and melody and plods a little towards the end to a simple riff but the almost five-minute long ‘Pioneer’, which was released as a single in May, makes up for it with powerfully delivered vocals from Anderson. Following a slow acoustic guitar introduction, it changes direction several times with a nice piece of violin work from Andrew Stuart-Buttle and another King Crimson-like passage before it ends up sounding so close to Cattle & Cane’s latest album that the only thing missing is Helen Hammill’s contrasting vocals. That’s not to criticise. The analogy is with a very good band.
‘Dogs’ is an acoustic ballad until it picks up a strong bass riff part way through. There’s so much going on musically in ‘Donate’ – percussion, harmonised voices, guitars, overlaid keys – that it is in danger of detracting from the message of the song; perhaps a case of less is more. Final track ‘Backs Against the Wall’ starts off with a submarine sonar sound followed by the same four piano notes as on Choir of Young Believers’ Hollow Talk (the theme tune to The Bridge). Once the shock recedes this becomes a haunting track with just the right mix of instrumentation, a great marching beat on the snare drum (I’m always a sucker for those) and in my opinion the best on the album.
Divisions is a solid debut album from a band which evidently knows what it is doing and which deserves wider recognition. It might be a little overproduced in parts but the musicianship alone will ensure you keep coming back to it.
Divisions is out now