Weald is (or more accurately, was) the Old English word for ‘forest’. It’s pronounced /wiːld/, started as a West Saxon word and was later assimilated by the Anglian wold and the Kentish wild, both of which are still around today (source, OED Online). Bet you didn’t know that. Well, in addition to being a linguistic fragment of our savage past, Weald is the title of the rather savagely brilliant debut album from Rob St John.
The album is out on the 21st of November, on gatefold vinyl and digital. I plan on getting a gatefold edition (apparently some copies are already knocking around in Avalanche) some time in the future, but for now I’ll have to neglect my turntable and devour the digital promo copy the lovely folks at Song, By Toad sent me.
I’ve already featured Your Phantom Limb (it was released as a split single with Ian Humberstone a few weeks ago) and Sargasso Sea (as my Song of the Day), so I won’t rake over old ground. I will, however tell you that it’s a dead good record.
This debut is the culmination of four years of touring – it features collaborations including Neil Pennycook of Meursault, Ian Humberstone and Malcolm Benzie of eagleowl – and was recorded lo-fi in various bedrooms, kitchens and garrets across the UK.
Weald is a forest indeed; an auditory one. Like The Douglas Firs earlier this year, Rob St John succeeds in producing a soundscape upon which to elevate his lyrics and set them loose. After the throbbing guitar and drum climax on Sargasso Sea, comes the mellow and melancholy Vanishing Points. Acid Test puts vocal flesh on string-instrument bones, before the epic, seven-minute, Stainforth Forth utterly captures your ears.
Stainforth Force (in the photo above) is a weir near the Yorks-Lancs border, and perhaps these primal associations with place and memory are the most salient themes on Weald; John’s haunting Lancastrian tones filter through the ether accompanied always by that lingering harbinger guitar, those restless drums, that tense accordion.
After writing that, it doesn’t sound like an album for sunny weather.The cover certainly doesn’t bely April charm, to be sure; but this is November and this is Scotland. And after listening to Emma’s Dance, the short but pretty instrumental acoustic track, you’ll find succour. To some, Rob St John’s music sounds like it needs fine-tuned ears and an Advanced Certificate in Listening Skills to be appreciated, but I think you’ve just got to be prepared to let it breathe and wait for the subtle flavours to come out.
Weald is floating, ghostly post-folk, delivered in a beautiful manner.