aroberts_spoilscoverIn an interview before Folk Roots New Routes at the South Bank last year, the festival's curator - and folk legend - Shirley Collins was asked about the Scottish singer Alasdair Roberts. She gave an effusive reply, describing him as 'just lovely', and his music as 'absolutely beautiful'. She also added that he was a very deep chap who left her, by way of contrast, feeling quite superficial.While 'lovely' and 'beautiful' are words that could well be used to describe much of Roberts' fourth solo album, 'superficial' is certainly not. The world Spoils inhabits is one of layered metaphor and obscure folklore, of 'brindled hounds' and 'scurvy dreams'. A broken crocus grows out of a woman's breast and Alasdair spends his time running around looking for his legs. Initially, making head nor tail of Spoils' lyrics seems nigh-on impossible—it's far easier to sit back and let the (long) words wash over you. Or perhaps, just turn it off.Gradually though, pictures take shape, and stick. Plenty of these are striking, such as three cities that fall and rise, then crumble down to fine dust, or the album's closing line, of an empty-handed hunter coming home. The excellent 'Hazel Forks', is about the dangers of dowsing, if you don't know what you're doing with a sacred hazel grove, while 'So Bored was I (Dark Triad)' finds Roberts coming across three different versions of himself. This relates to—of course!-- the three personality traits of the dark triad.Lyrically, it's off the map. Musically, it's more familiar, bringing to mind Lal Waterson, the Incredible String Band and a less-rock Fairport Convention. Traditional instruments and melodies are deftly woven into the tapestry. Alongside members of his former band Appendix Out, Roberts has also enlisted the free percussionist Alex Neilson. His presence is keenly felt during a loose, dark passage in the back half of 'The Book of Doves'. It's in such moments, when Roberts' songs shift character halfway through and often take the music firmly into the territory of psychedelic folk, that the album is at its most thrilling.It's a trip you may not care for: if you prefer folk music which speaks to the common man, then you're likely to find Roberts' cerebral wordplay spoils Spoils. But if you're prepared to buy into his labyrinthine lyrics, this is an album that will prove richly rewarding. I can't think of another artist who would want or be able to release a record like this, and as far as I'm concerned, that's a strong compliment.75%Alasdair Roberts on Myspace