One of the key ingredients to making exciting music is danger. I’m not necessarily talking about ear-shredding dins or these-go-up-to-11 aural assaults. Danger is about the artist exposing themselves; think of Arcade Fire’s nerve-jangling anxiety, Eluvium’s cinematic emotional landscapes or Iron & Wine’s home-recorded tapes that sound so personal it feels like you’re eavesdropping. Kris Drever has danger in spades. John McCusker’s instrumentals didn’t so much but made up for it in other areas. Roddy Woomble’s debut album was utterly extraordinary in general. Put them together and ‘Before The Ruin’ is a relatively ordinary, distinctly non-dangerous folk record and not much more. On first listen, I was disappointed severely (anyone who has heard the musicians’ solo work won’t blame me) but I have since (sort of) warmed to this record. Let’s start with the lyrics. Roddy Woomble’s previously intriguing and cryptic lyrics are ditched for sake of sounding pretty. “I danced with fire and water and then I walked home with the pieces.” Traditional folk cliches: Mythic-type dancing? Check. Liberal use of the elements? Check and check. Walking home sombrely when it’s all over? You bet your rural ass. John McCusker sounds like he was paid a tenner a day and rarely makes himself at all noticeable. Kris Drever’s guitar parts on the other hand sound pretty good. There are moments of real greatness on ‘Before The Ruin’ but it can never be called special. In terms of the music itself, it sounds like everyone is following eachother rather than bothering to make their voice heard and when everyone follows someone else there’s no one to lead. While it never gets overly exciting or dangerous, there are moments where you’re reminded who you’re listening to and what they’re capable of. The warm opener ‘Silver and Gold’ is one of the best songs of any of their three careers and the Kris Drever-led ‘The Poorest Company’ is one of the most convincing stabs at traditional folk of the last twenty years. So while ‘Before the Ruin’ may be inconsistent, with a bit of editing it could be an extremely fine record. But what really saves this record from being botched is the fact that all of the people involved sound like they’re having a good time and they’re playing for themselves. Like they’re not trying to impress each-other. While this doesn’t make the record good on its own, it does give them something of an excuse.
Such a promising collaboration shouldn’t weild such disappointing results, but ‘Before The Ruin’ is saved by a small handful of good/great songs and a general feeling that it doesn’t care whether you like it or not. All flaws however seem to be swept under the rug when these three play live; it’s their infectious love for music as a whole that makes any slip-up irrelevant. This record however is all-to-often, far from exciting and often riddled with cliche.
Key Track: Silver and Gold
Listen to this: somewhere rurual up North maybe?