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King Creosote & Jon Hopkins - Diamond Mine

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Artist: King Creosote & Jon Hopkins

Album: Diamond Mine

Label: Domino

Review date: May. 19, 2011


King Creosote & Jon Hopkins - "John Taylor's Month Away" (Diamond Mine)


For 40-some albums and a dozen or so years, Scottish folksinger King Creosote (Kenny Anderson in real life) has toiled more or less in obscurity, self-releasing exquisitely emotive albums in the not-quite-traditional vein of James Yorkston or Alasdair Roberts, all with hardly a ripple of buzz. Both Diamond Mine — his collaboration with English producer Jon Hopkins — and the North American primer Thrawn cherry-pick and re-imagine tunes from the self-recorder’s profusion of material. Two of Diamond Mine’s prettiest songs, “Running on Fumes” and “Your Own Spell,” date from 2003, but they are from different records (Seaglass and Psalm Clerk, respectively).

For Diamond Mine, Hopkins has re-framed Anderson’s songs with electronic elements and field recordings, filtering what appears to have been a wholly organic aesthetic through the lens of technology. The addition becomes most noticeable in the brief opener, “First Watch,” where barely decipherable speech, clinking silverware and other incidental sounds sketch out a scenario of a meal at a village snack bar somewhere (if we can trust the accents) in remote Scotland. Elsewhere, Hopkins’ alterations are more reticent, slipping seamlessly into hand-hewn, traditionalist corners. You’ll hear, at intervals, a wash of synthesizer echoing Anderson’s accordion drone, a clickety rhythm of percussion moving his tremulous ballads forward, but you have to listen carefully. There is, for instance, a wonderful swell of slightly altered vocals in the final third of “John Taylor’s Month Away,” a distant sound of seagulls and surf, a wavery bit of electronic sound that reinforces that cut’s elegiac mood. If you’re not paying full attention, these elements have a way of slipping down into the mix.

Hopkins, who has worked with a variety of folktronica types including Tunng, Four Tet and James Yorkston, succeeds by subtly augmenting these songs, adding just enough to create an aura around what are, in their unadorned state, fairly impressive compositions. And that’s as it should be, because Diamond Mine succeeds primarily on the strength of its songs.

Remarkably, given Anderson’s tumultuous output, the songs on Diamond Mine have a gem-like , well-considered quality. Their melodies follow well-trodden, modal paths, twisting upward in pure yearning, dipping downward in a weary acceptance of human fallibility. Anderson’s voice is slightly nasal and wavery, edging into the notes, fluttering upward uncertainly in occasional octave-length jumps. Yet, the roughness of his voice accentuates the depth of feeling in the songs. His long, sustained notes wander all around the target tone, yet this seems only to strengthen the emotional content of the phrase.

All seven tracks on Diamond Mine are strong, but “Bubbles,” coming mid-way through, does the best job of bridging Anderson’s quavery humanity with lush, electronically aided textures. The song’s rhythmic bed marries traditional banjo plucking with scratchy, glitchy percussion. Its florid choruses augment Anderson’s tremor with lovely female harmonies, piano and washes of synthetic tone. Anderson’s bare melody seems to long for unearthly beauty and then find it, unexpectedly, in swells and flourishes of electronic glory.

Later, “Your Young Voice” leaves the King Creosote song mostly as it came, in a spare, guitar/piano rendition of an achingly pretty melody. It’s clear that none of these songs really require amplification, that they, in fact, drive the beauty of Diamond Mine. Still, Hopkins’s deft touch somehow adds to, rather than subtracts from, their elemental simplicity.

By Jennifer Kelly

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