ALBUM REVIEW: Stick In The Wheel – Hold Fast | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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From Here

Released: 21.08.20







I’ve been living with this record for weeks now and writing about it isn’t any easier for all that. Hold Fast feels important and urgent in ways I struggle to nail down, the depth of the work here – musically, lyrically, politically – is staggering. This is songwriting as an explicitly political act, without losing any sense of wonder or beauty or musicality.

Both From Here and Follow Them True redrew definitions of what folk music is, as Stick In The Wheel first stripped it back to its base elements then started adding flavours from wherever they wanted. Hold Fast continues that process but this record really ups the ante in its invention and its risks. Every track is a nexus, a pulling together and a spell. When bands provide notes on their songs it’s normally a sign of encroaching hubris; here it’s a vital key to understanding.

The opening track A Tree Must Stand In The Earth sounds like Earth for a couple of bars before becoming one of their most mournful ballads, full of poetry and condemnation (and some of Ian Carter’s finest guitar). Budg & Snudg is almost a glam-morris stomp with some stirring melodeon and defiant criminality, Nicola Kearey sounding even more full of disdain than usual. Topknot is SITW finding connections again, from 18th Century poetry to #BLM, set to a gorgeous Yiddish melody. Villon Song is the most immediately impressive track here, this time the stomp more aggro, hints of Tom Waits and Sleaford Mods, it’s punk as fuck too. A tumbling mishmash of underworld argot sees Kearey relate how in the end, every scoundrel’s success ends in poverty as “the booze and the blowens cop the lot.

Gold So Red is bewitching psych-folk with a rumbling bassline and some understated guitar freakout. Fake Away is another ‘same as it ever was’ story of fatalism and carrying on, Kearey totally immersed in her character. Soldier Soldier is a raw, quietly furious one-take subversion of a Kipling poem, the stench of patriotism revealed as cant. This stuff really gets under your skin.

SITW have said that Possible Reasons For Eventual Admission To The Asylum is the most personal song here and it sounds like it. Mental health and misogyny (and memes) addressed with Kearey’s richest vocal yet over an electronic setting that’s mournful but vaguely menacing, demanding your attention and your reflection. Drive The Cold Winter Away could be a giallo movie theme repurposed as a prayer for survival. Nine Herbs Charm is pure dubwise magick, an unlikely and amazing expressway from a 10th Century witch to the Black Ark via a bombed out London; you can really smell the herbs. Closing track Forward is a song of resistance and community, connecting autotuned modernity to a Yiddish lament via Vikings and Brexiteers.

Really nailing what makes this album so absolutely fucking special is like catching lightning in a bottle. But you’ll feel it.


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