It’s always been pretty clear that Guillemots were going to be a successful band. I remember first seeing them on MTV2 back in the day, just before the release of ‘Trains To Brazil’ and thinking how the energy and melodies of this band would take them far. I didn’t however, realise how well they would do commercially. I didn’t know, for example, that their debut album Through The Windowpane peaked at #17 in the UK album charts (remember those? Those things that you’re only allowed into if your name is Adele nowadays), and that its successor, 2008′s Red topped that, climbing all the way to #9.
It’s been three years since we last had a glimpse of what the quartet are up to. Since then, we’ve had a solo album from frontman Fyfe Dangerfield, the critically and commercially acclaimed Fly Yellow Moon, but here we are, 2011, confronted with the ever difficult third album entitled Walk The River. I say ever difficult, because as is often the case with third albums, bands can struggle to find new ground to tread, or to sound fresh and as though they’re still enjoying themselves. Happily though, none of these issues affect this album – how could they, when your frontman is the spritely, effervescent whirlwind that is Fyfe Dangerfield? No, what we find in this album is Guillemots doing what they do best, and doing it really well.
Walk The River opens with a song of the same name, a track which builds and builds, starting out with a sole drumbeat, soon followed by Dangerfield’s soft vocal, before culminating into a really richly textured, melancholy melody. The lyric “Walk the river like a hunted animal” is striking and delivered with pinching emotion that invites listeners to stop, and to truly absorb the message of the song. It’s a raw, honest opening tune, augmented by a beautiful harpsichord-esque sound and is a real taste of the sentiment to expect from the rest of the album. ‘Walk The River’ trickles into track two ‘Vermillion’ which retains the structural style of the first track, something which has been carefully considered on this record in ordder to make each song slide perfectly into the next. There’s a bit of a Midlake feel to ‘Vermillion’ with lots of layered vocals and a very rhythmic acoustic guitar. This smooth soundtrack is presented alongside gently distorted vocals which add a real sense of depth and darkness. It’s quite comforting to hear Dangerfield’s voice again, for his is a truly honest talent – no pretention, nothing fake – every syllable that he utters is soaked in beliveable longing, love, heartache or whichever emotion the song requires.
Each track on Walk The River carries something sentimental. The lyrics are tinged with nostalgia, everything about the compositions feels very personal and there’s a lasting sense of loss throughout the album. Musically, this album is gorgeous. It’s atmospheric, full of reverb and clinging tones. Closing track ‘Yesterday Is Dead’ continues the sprawling, melancholic feel of the album in an eight and a half minute track which fades into ghostly children’s vocals as the end of the song draws the album to silence. The overall tone of the album is more calculated than on previous releases. There’s none of the frantic chanting found on ‘Kriss Kross’ or euphoric romanticism of ‘Made Up Love Song #43′, it’s slower paced and sadder. Walk The River is the most mature sounding Guillemots record to date, full of tender songwriting and stingingly poingnant lyrics. It’s not what I was expecting, but it’s completely beautiful.