Keston Cobblers Club - One, For Words
Keston Cobblers Club admittedly hit every folk-pop button going; from soaring, harmonic barnstorms to tender, sentimental melancholy, but so do many of their contemporaries. Be it Mumford & Sons, Johnny Flynn or Laura Marling - all pretty much coax at the same influences but each of those three has found a compelling (arguably) niche within which to expose themselves. The Mumford's is perhaps generic stadium folk that they've perfected; Johnny Flynn has mastered jaunty, off-slant odes while Laura Marling has expanded into the gaping absence of British female folk. For any act to challenge such competitors or, at least bring something refreshing to the genre would need to have an extremely potent talent.
As far as One, For Words goes in comparison to the relative acts, it's pleasingly familiar. Keston Cobblers Club almost certainly venture into the venn diagram with all of these artists, and if you're a fan then chances are this won't be far from smacking you right in the sonic tastebuds. If you want to consider their debut along with something more established such as Alas, I Cannot Swim or Sigh No More, then it absolutely matches those for accessible and appealing singles. If you take 'Pett Level', consisting of husky countering harmonies, and debut single 'You-Go', a delightful malady of flittering melodies and oozing hooks, you have two singles to rival any of the genre. 'For Words' stands out later striking abundant emotional notes with desperate melodies smothered in swaying strings and sullen piano. It may not be the most original song-form it must be granted, but is a beautiful composition nonetheless.
What I believe is the more interesting aspect of Keston Cobblers Club, however, is the part with accordions, brass bands, crashing cymbals and quick-rolling drums. These are admittedly detectable in the previously mentioned tracks but much more thoroughly indulged elsewhere. The more challenging; more invigorating aspects of the album come from the likes of 'Promenade' and 'The Heights of Lola'; these are eccentric folk aperitifs that experiment behind strange portals and through a different dimension to the rest. This is where I believe that Keston Cobblers Club can become something beyond a genre; beyond a generalisation; and beyond (perhaps unwanted) comparisons with other folk acts.
When they throw of the shackles of acoustic guitar and feathery vocals on the likes of 'The Curve' and explode into strange instrumentation such as on 'Marley' it becomes a much more intriguing record. There are surprising eruptions of ska and bluegrass such as on 'Ah, Jaunt Soon' and songs which fracture entirely like 'The Handless Man'. All of a sudden you have to listen with a little more intent and with a little more trepidation as the predictability wears off, but that's a good thing; in fact a necessity. The only wish is that there would have been more of it. Had this record been thirteen tracks of 'You-Go'-esque folk-pop it would not only have detracted from that song and others of that standard but it would have been a nauseating compilation, something which it just manages to stave off.
There are, of course, different impressions to be taken from any record. If your palate tends to sway towards the widely accustomed sound of folk-pop then absolutely you will find more than enough appealing moments on One, For Words. And, okay, this isn't mind-boggling, psychotic, experimental folk (if that ever exists) but it does push them towards an area both accessible and creatively original. If you prefer the latter this may not give you enough to digest in terms of variety, but if you appreciate the former then maybe this record will ease you into something a little less predictable without alienating you. Radical it isn't, but it doesn't saturate the genre. This is not their version of someone else's folk music either, it is their sound and one which will be both appealing and interesting if perhaps just a little beige at times as well.