No band wants to be primarily associated with a cover of somebody else’s work, but I feel compelled to push you in the direction of Golden Fable‘s truly beautiful reading of the Manic Street Preachers‘ ‘Motorcycle Emptiness’, which featured as a bonus track on the deluxe edition of their 2012 debut, ‘Star Map’. It offered an alternative, utterly piercing and simplistically affecting take on a song I’d hitherto thought untouchable. Its greatest achievement is highlighting beyond any doubt the distinctive majesty of Rebecca Palin‘s stunning voice. If it doesn’t prompt you to listen to their two albums to date, then you are a cold-hearted husk living in a joyless world.
As I seem to do at least once a year in these lists, I find myself thanking the inimitable and irrepressible Adam Walton, host of BBC Radio Wales’ essential new music programme, for acquainting me with this particular act. Having been smitten with a track he had played, I hastily acquired the aforementioned first release. It has much to love about it but ‘Ancient Blue’ is a more confident, more complex and more compelling beast. Now, I’m about to use the word ethereal. It’s a word that gets horrendously over-used in music reviews. I’m almost certainly guilty of doing it myself, although I’ve been cripplingly paranoid about such matters since a piece in The Word a couple of years ago highlighted the cliched journalistic tropes that abound so freely in music writing. However, on this occasion, it’s abso-bloody-lutely necessary. Palin’s ethereal voice seems to take flight over these songs, sometimes trying to outrun the music, on other occasions a lyrical encapsulation of the ecstatic patterns of sound below.
I’ve seen some sniffy reviews dismissing some of the music on ‘Ancient Blue’ as too polished and making comparisons to luminaries from the bedwetter-indie scene. I can’t speak for those writers, but I suspect they didn’t listen all that long to this beautiful album. Any notion of playing it safe, smoothing over jagged edges or restraining these songs is so staggeringly wide of the mark I feel on something of a mission to make sure that every single one of you reading this right now listens to this record. At least twice. Seriously, as the festivities descend, the shite films loop around endlessly before your eyes and the tins of Celebrations continue to empty at an alarming rate, give yourself a much needed reminder that there is life out there by clicking on the artwork above and giving these eleven songs some of your time.
‘Under Your Wing’ is a delicate request for acceptance which explodes in desperation and frustration, while single ‘Breathe In’ twitches from the off and progresses like a pot about to boil over at any second. The spacey sprawl of ‘The Deep’ sets in motion the record’s second half, building to a cacophonous wall of sound. ‘Lifeline’ is arguably the album’s standout, gradually adding layers until you arrive at a chorus that achieves a similar emotional clout to the crescendo of a hymn sung by the whole congregation. Palin’s magnificent voice is pushed and pushed and with it go the hairs on the back of your neck. It’s hard to say exactly what Golden Fable do sound like, but fans of Stephanie Dosen, the Cocteau Twins, Mogwai and Sarabeth Tucek should all find something to like here. Safe and dull, they are most certainly not. Produced by David Wrench, a man whose recent credits read like a best of the year list in their own right, this is an unexpectedly triumphant record.
Adam Walton’s Best of 2014 show is available here until January 17th.