Following on from their self-titled debut release, The Kings Of The South Seas return with Franklin. While their first effort was a concept album based around the songs of sailors on whaling ships of the South Georgian Islands, this time the focus is on the attempts to find a North Western passage through the Arctic Circle during the 19th Century.
The distinctive dark and glowering sound of their first album provides the template here, never more so than on the title track. Ben Nicholls’ rich and searing bass voice is to the fore, giving the material a dramatic urgency through sheer depth and conviction.
Franklin does, however, see the trio find a much wider and intriguing range of palettes and textures. There’s the use of organ alongside a martial drum beat to accompany the parting words of Dying Brother, and the Appalachian style banjo on the brisk and flighty Death of a Gull.
Meanwhile guitarist Richard Warren summons a wide range of tones from his guitar, through use of technique as much as electronics. Song of Defeat uses both chiming harmonics and big, woozy chords to summon up a fearsome icy blast, while the soft theremin-like accompaniment of the cabaret-esque Song of the Sledge perfectly suit the hushed delivery.
With the bulk of the source material on Franklin consisting of somewhat obscure songs dug up through Nicholl’s research, the melodies that have come down with the words don’t generally rank among the folk tradition’s finest. It’s therefore to the band’s credit that they’ve managed to devise the evocative arrangements seen throughout, finding the kind of interesting chord changes seen on The Reindeer and the Ox within the tunes.
Though the approach of building an album around songs taken from a particular historic period and location isn’t a new one among folk bands, few do it in as engaging a fashion as The Kings Of The South Seas. In Franklin, fans of electric folk music will find an album that hangs together on the strength of its music as much as its subject matter.Nick Brook
Released on CD and download on Hudson Records on 2 February 2018. Produced and mixed by Ben Hillier.
1. Reason’s Voyage
2. Death of a Gull
3. Song of Defeat
4. Dying Brother
5. Song of the Sledge
6. The Reindeer and the Ox
8. Greenland’s Icy Mountain
9. Lady Franklin
10. Wild Wild Wanderer