‘From nowhere, the folk-centred polyphony explodes into your ears!’
Intro to Velvet & Stone:
Releasing a wave of stand alone tracks and EP’s since their debut ‘The Storm’ back in 2015, it’s little wonder that Velvet & Stone are becoming regulars on the folk festival scene. Taking influence from a multitude of sub-genres, the sound of this duo featuring vocalist Lara Snowdon and violinist Kathryn Tremlett continually deliver incredible musicality. At times stripped back and pushing at full-throttle when joined with their touring band, there is much to be thrilled by. Therefore it’s also no wonder that ‘Oh Boy’ taken from their forthcoming, self-titled debut album makes us want their June release to arrive much quicker!
Rhythmically thumping, the combination of drums and palm muted guitar makes for a dance encouraging, toe tapping introduction. Enticing? Yes. Anticipation filled? Most definitely. This sound however gives no real indication of what is to come, and with the emergence of gentle, wordless vocals – which subconsciously call for you to join in – being appropriately joined by soothing harmonies, it feels like this is how it will remain. However, moving into the first verse, we get a hint that this will not be the case.
Headed up by the title lyrics, the wonderfully warm harmonies disappear and replaced by more dominating percussion a sense of restrained energy is felt. Encouraging you to tap more than just your toes, the rhythms start to make their way through the rest of your body and you feel yourself begin to move. Paired with one of the most wonderful, smile-inducing, beautifully inflection filled vocals I’ve heard, the sense of connection comes from both the instrumental elements and the lyricism. No more so than the a capella setting of ‘But why can’t I sleep at night? What is there left for me?’
Having set up the sound wonderfully and made sure you have an intention to move, the gradual transitions suddenly shift. Bursting through the calming sound of Lara’s vocal, you are jolted and lifted into the air. Don’t fear though, this is a jolt that delights and offers special musicality in spades. Changing to a polyphonic, overlapping sound, any restraint is cast aside for full-force energy to replace it. Infused with countless folk trademarks, an explosion of syncopated drone like chords, synchronised percussion and violin based counter melodies fill your ears.
Given the newfound, more driving nature of the track and the soft, care-free tone of Lara’s vocal, you would be forgiven for thinking the lyricism would get lost. But this is not the case. Sure, it certainly works among the accompanying elements rather than sitting aloft, but it never hints at being lost. How, I don’t really know, but every nuance that thrilled you in the more exposed opening sections, thrills you even more among the new surroundings.
Listening as a whole, it’s truly something quite special, but listen even closer and you’ll hear musicality which takes it way beyond this. Take the way in which the chordal accompaniment and the ending of the line ‘souls they come in twos’ form a call and response with each other as just one example. If you want another, take the cross-rhythmical harmonic changes in the instrumental link between the verses as your second.
While firmly in the bracket of energetic at this point, the initial moments of the third verse allow Velvet & Stone to showcase just how much they understand about making a track stand out. It would very easy for them, and like us earlier they too would be forgiven for continuing the onslaught of polyphony. After all it is a phenomenal sound. However, providing a short change in texture, to one that features only fading drones, we get to experience the real beauty of Lara’s vocal in near a capella form once more.
A delight in every way, it serves as an unexpected musically tasty treat. But as quickly as it emerges, it disappears again. Why? Well quite simply because Velvet & Stone want to offer us something even tastier: A free-form sounding, improvisatory-infused, instrumentally focused folk-rock finale.