It is not often that a folk album is released with such subjects as pestilence or post-apocalyptic Britain. In After the City, Bird in the Belly seize these subjects head on, delivering their unique flavour of aptly-named ’dark folk’ with utmost sincerity.
The album is not afraid to rip open these topics and confront them. There are songs literally inspired by each of the four horsemen, weaving complex lines and finely-tuned soundscapes to represent each figure both lyrically and musically.
Listening to the album from start to finish, a story is woven of a world already on the brink. The confidant Tragic Heart of Towns paints a picture of a city clinging to life, but as the album progresses, the haunting Litany hammers the first nail, followed by each of the other horsemen: War comes through the melancholic Jemmy is Slain, Famine via the unsettling Famine, Fever, Frost and finally a visit from Pale Horse himself - Death.
Through each song, the band’s ability to craft beautiful soundscapes is faultless, with wonderful performances from every member of the ensemble. In particular, the vocals of Jinwoo are superb, and fit with both the theme of the album as well as the instrumentation itself.
Performed in acapella, Smokeless Chimneys interprets a poem from the Lancashire Cotton Famine of 1861. It laments the state of things, such as widespread debt and starvation.
It is worth drawing attention to the band’s commendable efforts in uncovering less-common historical texts for lyrical inspiration. There are no John Barleycorns or Wild Rovers here; rather, much of the album draws inspiration from Richard Jefferies’ 1885 post-apocalyptic novel After London.
It’s not all doom and gloom, however. An almost cheerful instrumental (Landmark) is followed by the song After London, which itself is relatively upbeat, detailing all of the nature that came back after London, well, ended.
This thread is continued in Lay Low Lay, painting a picture of a world, if not restored, then certainly not dead. It ends with The Ships, telling us of “A beautiful sea… today, clear enough to drink,” suggesting that perhaps there is hope after all.
Overall, the album is bleak, it is sad, it is moving, it is sublime. While you might need a unicorn chaser (a relentlessly positive film/album/book to follow something particularly sombre), After the City is, undoubtedly, well worth it.Alex Turner
Ryeleased on February 25 on GF*M Records.
1. Tragic Hearts Of Towns
3. Jemmy is Slain
4. Famine, Fever, Frost
5. Pale Horse
6. Smokeless Chimney
8. After London
9. Lay Low Lay
10. The Ships