For better or for worse, folk has emerged once again to the fore of popular music, infiltrating not just the charts but the upper echelons of rock festival line-ups and manifesting in the irksome trend for faux-Victorian apparel. A last bastion of supposed ‘authenticity’ against the convoluted sheen of the EDM behemoth, it has introduced traditional music to a whole new generation of fans otherwise beset by technology and the omnipresence of the digital. All male trio The Hand In The Ocean are yet another set of tweed loving twenty-somethings armed with banjos and a large catalogue of open tunings. Sparse in instrumentation and bearing a tumultuous emotionality, their self-recorded mini-album Tree/Forts is a highly tolerable strain of contemporary folk with a lyrical rawness that’s far removed from any of that thumping Mumford & Sons folk-pop tripe. This is far from another bandwagon jumping record, bearing little evidence of the contrivance that besets the like of chart-botherers Ben Howard and the like. Instruments meander at an often languorous pace – for the most part unaccompanied by rhythmic device in a manner that suggests a stream-of-consciousness application of finger to fretboard.Tree/Forts conjures a late night atmosphere, as if the members are expelling the last remnants of energy in carving out the intricate lead melodies before they collapse into extended slumber. It’s a rejectionist record- resisting the lumbering zeitgeist through a continuation of tradition.
Acknowledgement of quintessential 21st Century sounds make a single appearance on the record in the guise of the heavily R&B indebted hand-clap beat that closes the beautiful ‘Brackish’, a track that initially brims with a propulsive gusto before beating hasty retreat to the languid delivery that characterises the record. Existing as sole permeation of contemporary influence into their otherwise stringent traditionalism, the handclaps may initially appear incongruous but their low key delivery saves them from spoiling the bleary-eyed atmosphere the three-piece have carefully constructed.
‘Moss Wine’ is characterised by a whispered, spoken vocal indebting the listener with an immediate sense of intimacy with the protagonist’s digressions, ostensibly directed at his unnamed lover as a lone guitar delivers the most minimal of accompaniments. The segue into ‘White Noise’ is sublime, with guitar and banjo united in grainy twang before the entrance of some severely quivering vocals that sound as if the vocalists throat cannot help but buckle under the emotional weight of every melancholy phrase. A single backing baritone vocal adds a haunting quality and effective depth to the otherwise frail vocal delivery. Bringing the record to a close is the mournful ‘Porcelain’ – the achingly slow tempo leaving plenty of space for a tremolo-picked banjo and isolated xylophone to dabble in exquisite melodies over a backdrop of sampled rain. It may be sombre and emotionally pained but the closing minute or so offers glimmers of hope in the xylophones heavenly chimes and a renewed vigour that takes hold in the singer’s once fragile vocal.
Tree/Forts is a record of simplicity- exploring possibilities of just two or three instruments under a folk guise. Certainly, there are times when the record’s meandering sensibilities work against it – with the trio sticking resolutely to the same aural plain throughout. Yet, it is wonderfully earnest and exudes the favoured cabin-in-the-woods aesthetic that folkies just can’t resist. This is folk in its purest form – raw and stark yet exuding a certain alluring warmth felt only by the soul.
4 out of 5 high fives!