Roddy Woomble’s fifth solo album ‘Lo! Soul’ finds Idlewild’s frontman in contemplative and gently experimental mode – exploring different sounds to the acoustic folk he’s delved into previously. The new record was recorded remotely between Roddy’s home in the Hebride and producer/collaborator (and Idlewild bandmate) Andrew Mitchell’s studio in Dundee over the course of last year’s lockdown. Roddy says: ‘Andrew describes moments of the album as ‘Dystopian-pop, which I think is as good a description as any’.
There are psychedelic tendencies scattered throughout the opening ‘Return to Disappear’, a song that finds Roddy talking about tempations and desires against a backdrop of drum machines: ‘There’s a sense that nothing is real until you can see it, you can feel it’. A burst of brass horns signals the start of ‘Architecture in LA’, a slower and swaying piece of Divine Comedy-esque baroque pop with talk of ‘collective melancholy’ – a phrase that perfectly sums up the past 18 months for so many of us. This is followed by the title track, which combines Eno-esque soundscapes with hypnotic melodies and classic storytelling: ‘Keeping up my traditions to ignore those around me’.
Roddy declares ‘I know the whole world is out there and I can stare at all the possibilities’ towards the beginning of ‘Take It to the Street’ before then pondering how ‘Everyone makes the same mistakes, just at different points in their lifetime’ – and this is all delivered against a sound that is equal parts Roxy Music and Beach Boys. ‘Secret Show’ is a tale of defiance with lines like ‘It’s a secret show meant only for me and the shadows that are watching’ being delivered with authority and assertiveness, while ‘…It’s Late’ has an altogether more grandiose – and emotional – chamber pop sound: ‘How can you know what the letter’s gonna say? Ever little thing is trying to look the other way…’; ‘It’s a bit like looking when you’re tired of knowing’.
‘As If It Did Not Happen’ dips into a space-rock sound with abstract synths, fun drum beats and tones that could be influenced by Roddy’s sparse surroundings while ‘People Move Out’ slows things down with its sparser piano-led atmospherics: ‘I’m looking out of the window, people are looking back at me’; ‘People will always be at the heart of every helping hand’. There’s a touch of Rufus Wainwright in the sound and some of the lyrics are suitably macabre and visceral: ‘Like skeletons in love, nothing remains, an absence of pain’.
The penultimate ‘Atlantic Photography’ is a spoken-word interlude with musings about island houses, moving on and getting used to way things change (‘Watching as the sun goes down, watching as the sun begins to shine’ before ‘Dead of the Moon’ – think a more minimalisy The Waterboys meets Elton John – closes the record in suitably gorgeous fashion with its cute turns of phrase – ‘Emptiness can make infinite patterns out of nothing’ and ‘You can try silence, I believe it sounds better on replay’ being personal favourites.
‘Lo! Soul’ is the sound of one of our finest songwriters and storytellers making the most of an unusual year and delving into new spaces with aplomb.