Album review: Great Silkie – Dawn Chorus

Source: album artwork

Words by Grey Malkin

Great Silkie, from London, have stirred the waters of pastoral psych folk with their initial singles ‘Scared To be Alone’ and ‘So Many Hours’, and now return to crest the wave that debut album ‘Dawn Chorus’ will surely create. Written in near solitude within the countryside by singer and guitarist Sam Davies whilst experiencing an existential crisis of sorts, then recorded in live takes on analogue tape to best capture the essence of the band, this is an album that is both nakedly honest and tangibly energised. Described as being as if ‘Syd Barrett sang with The Byrds playing Pentangle songs with the youthfulness of early Blur‘ (in some regards an apt analogy), Great Silkie do capture something of each of these bands; however ‘Dawn Chorus’ is no mere tribute, there is something going on here that suggests a new and unique talent that are ploughing a genuine and fascinating furrow all of their own. The exciting part is that this is only the start, the beginning of what will hopefully be a journey to rival some of the artists that Great Silkie are being compared to.

Opening with the hazy Sunday afternoon strumming and laconic wah-wah of ‘Ten Pounds’, it is immediately apparent that something special is occurring. Davies’ sharp, impassioned vocals add a sense of the left field and an angular new wave edge to the laid back framework, before delving into the West Coast wistfulness of  ‘Nothing Will Change’ with its warm, lush harmonies and beautiful melancholy. Masterfully constructed, these songs twist and turn; there is nothing predictable or pedestrian at play here. Instead, there is a wilfully creative and experimental approach at work, albeit one aligned with a strong sense of melody – indeed, at times, Great Silkie appear reminiscent of Wire at their most psychedelic, circa ‘Outdoor Miner’. ‘I Don’t Know How To Say I Love You (These Days)’ is a lovingly embellished and piano led piece of baroque gorgeousness, with slide guitar weeping over a soaring chorus. There is a real late summer mood and feel to the album, perhaps reflecting its writing process and location, a yearning and reflectiveness that endears and evokes in equal measure. You can almost sense the evening light casting shadows and shapes, as the day draws to a close. ‘Birthday Wish’ is a fine example of this, its descending guitar runs adding both a quiet tension and sense of time passing by, of long, lonely afternoons.

‘Silly Boy’ follows, with Charlie Salvidge‘s deft drumming propelling forward the crystalline guitar lines in a dynamic and thrilling manner, demonstrating that Great Silkie can ably shift up a gear when required to. ‘Gone Long’, meanwhile, reveals Davies’ love of the Canterbury scene, discovered upon his childhood move from Berlin to Wiltshire, alongside the more pastoral aspects of the Kinks and Pentangle. Vocal harmonies that make the hairs on your neck stand up interject a woozy, circular verse, the song as a whole conjuring a heavenly and yet otherworldly feel, both sacred and strange. By contrast, the earthy, chiming ‘How Could This Happen’ sprints along on Andrew Saunders fluid bass runs, alongside Davies’ fiery guitar bursts and bell like precision playing. Next, ‘Great Blondel’s bucolic acoustic warmth charms its way into the soul, a country flecked gaze at the horizon that channels both Bert Jansch and Syd Barrett respectively, whist remaining very much its own creature. Davies’ guitar playing deserves special mention; immaculate and transportive, intricate yet not showy or ego driven, it adds texture and tapestry rather than showboating. His playing also contributes a sense of originality and recognisable style, painting a number of pleasingly odd corners and angles onto Great Silkie’s canvas. As if to prove this point, ‘Such Silence’ ends the album on a sequence of  echoing and looping guitar figures that conspire to create an ambience and mood that Eno himself would be justifiably proud of. Gentle waves of organ wash in, circling and layering until a chorus of wordless vocal harmonies and bowed guitar bring things to a cinematic and emotive close.

For a band so young (although they each have some pedigree in previous outfits and collectives), this is an astonishingly accomplished piece of work. ‘Dawn Chorus’ is at once both rich and adorned with chamber folk details and decoration, whilst still providing copious space to exist within the songs, allowing them to breath. It is also warmly comforting yet has a quiet sadness at its heart. Additionally, Great Silkie’s sound may be vintage yet it is utterly outside of time and fashion, living comfortably instead within its own universe and era. ‘Dawn Chorus’ then is a delicate kaleidoscope of an album with many facets, faces and sides. To listen is to step out of the world for a time, to be transported elsewhere. And who wouldn’t want that? 

Available from August 9th on the Crocodile Laboratories label and across all streaming platforms. Link to pre-order on vinyl coming soon.

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