Vying very closely for that Album of the Year slot was this incredible collection of songs by Kris Drever. I first saw Kris performing with LAU at Wickham Folk Festival in 2017. Their gig was recommended to me by several other musicians as the “must-see gig of the weekend”, and it proved to be canny advice. I saw him again at the Bristol Folk Festival in 2019, this time in his solo guise, and I made a mental note to go away and explore his back catalogue properly.
And it’s that catalogue of albums that has provided so much of the soundtrack to my life on the couch this year. In the early months, I listened to “I Didn’t Try Hard Enough” (from 2016’s If Wishes Were Horses) more times than any other track, and the October release of Where the World is Thin has hogged my earphones ever since.
As someone who occasionally records albums myself, I’m very conscious of how someone’s else’s music takes hold of me. On occasion, I have to take a step back and observe how the music I’m listening to is filtering into my own arrangements and productions. We’re all magpies, but sometimes someone else’s sparkly things can slightly overwhelm you. Paul Simon’s work does that to me. I’ll end up listening to it endlessly and then suddenly realise that his turns of phrase, both musically and lyrically, have sprinkled themselves all over whatever it is I’m currently working on.
That’s what’s happened with Where the World is Thin. In fact, I can pinpoint several things I’m having to watch out for. The half-picking, half-swooping guitar lines that dot the album (you can hear a glorious example in the opening seconds of the title track) – deeply melodic, but rhythmic and precise. The cinematic production of a song like “Scapa Flow 1919” (the sudden appearance of the clattering drum that arrives in the second verse, bringing with it a fresh urgency; the gentle descents that follow the choruses – 2:21 onwards – and end in a vast mind-altering chord that emphasises the sheer scale of the story being told). The storytelling and the lyricism – for Kris Drever is, in my opinion, one of the great lyricists writing today – that thrive on his ability to zoom down from the wonder of the larger picture to the beauty of minutiae, all in the space of a couple of lines.
We were ragged, we were dirty
Though we knew we didn’t care
Our only flag was a linen rag
As lank and lousy as our hair
Esprit de corps and dignity they ran off with our hope
One day I robbed an officer
I sold his iron cross for soap
It’s that kind of album. From universal themes to the tiniest details, it takes it all in, and the listener who choses to spend forty minutes in its company comes out all the more enriched for it. One of 2020’s must-hear albums.