Playing gigs as a folk act must be the worst. You’re inevitably on first, unless you’re playing an acoustic all-dayer and, moree often than not, you have no instrument loud enough to drown out the heckling during your softer songs. My First Tooth probably have their fair share of discouraging gig stories to tell – after all, they have played hundreds of shows since 2007, many of which saw them take to the stafe as a duo. The spine of guitarist, singer and movie buff Ross Marie Witt and violinist and fellow singer Sophie Galpin has since been strengthened by the acquisition of the musical equivalent of limbs – drums, bass and guitars – and is all the stronger for it.
Their Rubies EP and the ‘Margaret Yen’ single hinted at their ability to pen cosy folk-pop ditties, in whose presence you felt you could put on your sweatpants and eat half a packet of chocolate digestives. Their first album Territories is similarly agreeable, but is beefed up by the aforementioned reinforcements. ‘Slient Spring’, ahem, springs into life immediately, with bouncing drums, an electric guitar, a violin line and girl-boy harmonies all coming together to create a boisterous, poppy opener.
On balance, My First Tooth are at their strongest when they open those hi-hats and let the songs get away from them like overeager dogs – the similarly upbeat single ‘Orchards’ is an example, as is the ever-gorgeous ‘Sleet & Snow’ with its clever little mandolin riff.
But Witt’s vocals have been honed by dozens of bad PAs, and anyhow has always had that rare poignant quality, and is capable of leading a song on its own, as in the oddly touching (it is about a fire on an historic ship, after all) ‘Cutty Sark’.
There’s a lot of dirge in the folk canon, but My First Tooth only pick out the high-quality representatives: the careful instrumentation and arrangement echoes the Wilson-worship of Okkervil River, Witt’s vocals a restrained and confident Conor Oberst.
The album is dotted with a few short reprises and interludes, which make the songs flow in and out of each other in that loose, joyful manner that characterises the music on Territories. It’s a damn fine record that should give this lot the confidence to keep at it.