Joyous. I’m not sure what word to start with when it comes to Down Like Gold, other than joyous. Brothers Michael and David Champion have harnessed so much wrath on their debut record, taming it into a modest folk swell, there’s nothing but an absolute admission to one’s undeniable joy when hearing it’s compound beauty.
Few artists get close to the understated simplistic perfection of Neil Young, but Champs, scribbling both the poetic verse and landscape reverse of a postcard to a vintage idea of love, can do just that. The virtual nakedness that most tracks are exposed to allow little hiding for imperfections lyrically and vocally, yet at each turn the record delivers, tightens and lifts spirits. It’s not a fussy, big record – yet it grabs you like one. It’s shy, but it rattles you like it’s not. That landscape, so vividly brushed to depict youth and love, feels bright and honest enough to touch, as though you could stagger through the canvas into somewhere you’ve been before yet is somehow completely imaginary. The rustic window they’ve opened, no matter how small and incidental it may be in itself, reveals an animated world of limitlessness.
It’s an impressive world, offering the intimacy and humility of America’s dusky folk yesteryear, perverted by the glam-rock melodies of T-Rex and some sniffing around R.E.M. albums. “Savannah”, which features a piano being starkly pounded, senselessly like a drunk teenage boy pays tribute to his girlfriend, is an example of that grubby, psychedelic fog being thickened, as much Flaming Lips as Fleet Foxes. There’s a fluffy religious sound in “Pretty Much (Since Last November)”, as though Jack White is quietly leading The Ronettes in a gospel march towards the rapture. “My Spirit Is Broken” though is nothing but wholesome pop. It too has a glam swagger and spiritual tone, but it’s full-throttle rock, at times having an implosive Public Service Broadcasting swish on the guitar, and at others jumping head first into Blue Oyster Cult.
This contrast of heavy, heavy imagery and subtle melodies is exemplified perfectly by “St Peters”. The song could be a magical reimagining of Fleetwood Mac as sang on a grand stage by drug-addled troubadours at their best, or equally the sad final tales from soaking, starving buskers weeping underneath Camden Lock. It’s the genie in the bottle – phenomenal cosmic power, crammed into a tiny gold lamp. It’s the caged restrain that Arcade Fire exhibited on the quitter moments of Funeral, from which “8MM Desire” could in fact have been directly lifted.
Newer folk music can often be a hard sell, the listener having to invest a lot of time getting to know the material before it can properly satisfy, but in Down Like Gold Champs have waived any foreplay, opting for a direct smack on the arse and fist up the snatch. This is immediate, incredible folk pop that pays homage to the godfathers, performed amid the disco balls of a train hurtling through time, by kids who love alternative guitar bands.