Kathryn Williams – “Hypoxia” (2015)

Label: One Little Indians

Review by Warren Mayocchi

A book, “The Bell Jar” by Sylvia Plath, is inspiration for the latest album from Kathryn Williams. That book is about a suicidally ill woman who in many ways reflects the life of the author. Sylvia Plath herself died from suicide soon after publication of the book. As you would expect, given this type of base material, Kathryn Williams has created a thoughtful and moody album. It does not have a depressive atmosphere though, if anything there is a sense of wondering, the innocent curiosity of an observer looking in on the life of depression.

Ponderous, whispering vocals with minimal acoustic backing feature on most tracks. The album opens with three strong tracks. For me, “mirrors” is the standout song on the album. It is quite unlike everything else and has an accompanying music video. The vocal has attitude and the backing music is enhanced with fuzzy bass lines. Throughout there is a chant from the backing vocals creating a steady beat. The delicate “electric” and “battleships” are good examples of the minimal approach and would do better if they were followed by stronger material in the middle third of the album. These middle songs are delivered in a fairly similar style which requires the listener to engage with the lyrical element. But there are jarring chorus lines – “cuckoo, cuckoo, in my nest”, “I am, I am, I am, I am, I am, I can, I can, I can, I can, I can”, “tango with marko, …” – they break the mood of these songs. They are followed by the song, “when nothing means less”, it has an awkward lyric over a swirling musical wash. The last two songs benefit from a change in musical approach, “the mind has its own place” has a strong piano backing, it is followed by “a part of us”, which is slightly country. Kathryn has evoked an experimental John Lennon feel in many places on this album – I could imagine him singing a few times.

There is a lot to love on “hypoxia” for fans of contemporary folk, and fans of the genre will be unlikely to share my issues with the middle of the album. I have not read the book on which this album was inspired, and find no need to visit it based on what I heard. Though there may be extra dimension to the songs if you have read the book, they are complete by themselves.

Rating – 79/100

 

Tracklist

  1. electric
  2. mirrors
  3. battleships
  4. cuckoo
  5. beating heart
  6. tango with marco
  7. when nothing means less
  8. the mind has its own place
  9. part of us

 

Links

facebook.com/kathrynwilliamsmusic

twitter.com/kathwilliamsuk

kathrynwilliams.co.uk