On first listen, Erland And The Carnival exude the kind of quintessentially English folksiness that could have a sizable bunch of listeners reaching for the off switch. Certainly, the first few bars of album opener -Love Is A Killing Thing’ suggest pastoral idylls and village fairs, but it soon becomes far more Wicker Man than The Good Life, where you’re more likely to hear a squalling guitar than a gently plucked mandolin, even though they’re not above wheeling out a harmonium when the spirit takes them.
The Erland of the title is Erland Cooper, guitarist/vocalist and former Orkney resident, while the Carnival are made up of former Verve guitarist Simon Tong (who also hefted his axe in The Good, The Bad & The Queen) and drummer David Nock, who slapped skins for Paul McCartney’s impressive Fireman project.
The title track of sorts is a cover of Jackson C. Frank’s -My Name Is Carnival’, and it’s pretty stunning; all shimmering licks, swirling rhythms, cantering drums and gypsy mystery, wrapped up into a whole that is perfectly radio friendly and danceable. Indeed, reworking traditional folk tunes is their forte, and they’ve developed quite a reputation for reimagining Vaughan Williams’ standards like -Was You Ever See’ and the oompah-lite of -Tramps And Hawkers’.
Lead single, -Trouble In Mind’ is winsome and insistent in all the right places, -The Sweeter The Girl, The Harder I Fall’ can only be described as folk-punk, while the superb, if terrifying, -The Derby Ram’ is like the opposite of a Bord FÃ¡ilte ad, recounting the horrible tale of Shaun Dykes, who jumped from a multi-storey car-park in the city in 2008, while the camera phone-wielding crowd encouraged him. Elsewhere, -You Don’t Have To Be Lonely’ is pretty throwaway, albeit infectious, pop, -One Morning Fair’ is equal parts Tudor folk and Blur-like fuzz-pop and the closing’ The Echoing Green’ is a William Blake poem put to music.
Far darker than first impressions would have you believe, Erland And The Carnival is a swirling kaleidoscope of psychedelic prog. rock, folk-tinged pop and an innovative take on a very traditional musical form: the aural equivalent of running off with the circus, without actually having to leave your home.