Where as most acts are constantly defined by the genre or scene that produced them, others manage to transcend all notions of categories. It usually occurs when scale takes over (does anyone still consider Coldplay an indie band?), but occasionally it just comes down to creative vision. Debuting as Rachel Unthank and The Winterset at the Towersey Village Festival a decade ago, The Unthanks most definitely have their roots in folk music but, while the tradition still runs deep through their work, by the time of 2011’s Last album the concept behind the band had expanded – as had their audience.
Four years – and three Diversions albums that saw them explore brass band music, Robert Wyatt, the North East’s shipyards and Antony & The Johnsons – later and they’re heading even deeper into their own world. Half the songs on Mount The Air are self-penned, for the first time matching their arrangements of traditional material. Two of the songs – the opening title track and ‘Foundling’ are over ten minutes long. In contrast to the stark, minimalist Songs From The Shipyard that proceeded it, this is properly epic stuff. Brass and strings swell the sound, amplifying the emotion already existing in the songs.
As the album’s expansive approach to running times might suggest, nothing here is hurried, no corners cut. Despite the band’s core five members increasing to sixteen, the record feels spacious and relaxed. They can do radio friendly too on ‘Flutter’, albeit radio that isn’t afraid to give its listeners something out of the ordinary. As before, a darkness runs through the material, a drama that harks back to their folk roots – their reading of Dave Dodds’ ‘Magpie’ is a highlight. It’s why The Unthanks have developed into one of the most special experiences to be had at the moment, a sense of place combined with a sense of wonder. Come with them.