Two years after first appearing on the radar with their mini albums ‘Sound of the Storm’ and ‘The Maybe Forest’, Scottish four-piece Three Blind Wolves release their debut full length ‘Sing Hallelujah for the Old Machine’. It’s been quite a journey for the band over the last two years as they’ve played showcases at the Great Escape and SXSW, toured with Wintersleep and Frightened Rabbit and been over to Europe. Released via Instinctive Racoon, the album promises to expand on the band’s more traditional Americana sound, will everyone be singing its praises?
Opening amidst a slew of effects and feedback, ‘In Here Somewhere’ sees the band wear their influences proudly on their sleeves. Although the noisier and more immersive aspects recall a more introspective Twilight Sad, the gentle sound of David Cleary’s mandolin joins the instrumentation and helps carry the song along as it gains more and more pace before its dazzling culmination. Ross Clark’s gruff accent sings about how: ‘There’s pictures on the wall looking at me’ and is joined by the rest of the band’s more restrained and delicate gang vocals. Arena sized, this is a clear statement of ambition and continues throughout the following ‘Tall Man Riding’, a Nick Cave-meets-folk tinged effort that really does showcase the band’s powerful harmonies alongside Clark’s uncompromising tones.
Never is this voice more stirring than when Clark is singing about his own heartbreak. The unexpectedly catchy ‘Parade’ features the lyrics: ‘I’m breaking up inside’, ‘I’ve forgotten how to smile’ and, with a hint of falsetto, ‘I’m ready for you’. Heartbreak and loneliness is a subject that Clark keeps returning to, no more so than on ‘Edgar’s Church’, a song that starts by sparsely evoking the spirit of Villagers and conjures up the same kind of vivid imagery: ‘I watched the winter roll in, on a river full of ships’ and ‘Each night I’m awake with a love that won’t shake, it only hurts when I hear her voice’, before gaining in momentum and emotional impact as the rest of the band join in. There’s even a huge and unexpected crescendo of noise that brings a pulsating and satisfying climax.
While the centrepiece of the album is clearly the lumberjack-referencing ‘Honey Fire’, the 6Music sound of ‘Gold on the Cross’ has the essence of Frightened Rabbit at their most accessible, especially in its final repetition of the words: ‘This will take some time’. The album isn’t without humour, no record with song titles of ‘Farmer with a Pulse’ and ‘Sex is for Losers’ could be, but there’s a personal touch throughout that adds more individuality to it. Clark actually becomes the farmer in aforementioned ‘Farmer with a Pulse’, and it’s one of those tracks that brings to life the characters in the same way Conor Oberst so skilfully did with the likes of ‘Soul Singer in a Session Band’. It will find you wondering what the farmer’s back story was and how he ended up here, while ‘Sex is for Losers’ manages to reference John Travolta, which can not possibly be a bad thing, can it? There’s a touch of the macabre on the mandolin-heavy ‘I Will Put You in the Ground’ too.
Always entirely earnest, the band manage to blend the slower songs with the arena-baiting pop-punk edge of ‘Slow Summer Deer’, a song that really shouldn’t fit on the album but somehow manages to work with its loud and rapid aesthetics. Ending on a subtle and sombre note with the solo acoustic ‘When the Garden Gets Near’, Three Blind Wolves have created 11 tracks that will appeal to anyone who likes Scottish indie-folk. There’s a real passion burning throughout and when Clark sings: ‘I am the one you left behind, pick me up before you leave’, he could easily be talking directly to the listener. No one will be leaving this album behind.
Listen to ‘Sing Hallelujah for the Old Machine’ on Spotify.