Thursday, May 30 2024

It’s looking like an important year for Will Pope; signed to Revolver Records and a follow up to ‘Burying Giants’, in the offing, called ‘True to Form’, of which ‘Black Bird Fever,’ the latest single is taken. 

I have to admit that I feel conflicted. Sometimes this occurs for a number of reasons, but ultimately, it’s usually down to the inability to reconcile what I’m actually hearing against what I know. This is where I am with the latest iteration of Will. A gifted folk singer / songwriter from Rotherham.

So, what do I know about Will Pope? Let’s start with the obvious; he’s clearly an incredible singer (cue lazy and overstated comparisons to Jeff Buckley); his high falsetto, breath control and wide vibrato were devices used by Buckley to create his signature tone and ones which Will uses to recreate it beautifully. 

Listening to Will’s earlier work it’s clear that he is also hamstrung by the same affliction, when dipping into his lower register; a certain brittleness and accompanying fogginess. Perhaps those comparisons are not as lazy as one would suspect? That said it is a voice that possesses enough unique characteristics to be his own, and one could easily throw elements of Thom Yorke and a diluted Nick Drake – particularly in phrasing aspects – as further ingredients into the mix. It’s a voice that conveys, and successfully ‘sells,’ the gamut of emotions required to ensure emotional investment from the listener. A True, bonafide, troubadour.

Will Pope Singer Songwrtier

Listen to the hypnotic and atmospheric ‘At Once’ and you’ll be struck by a songwriter at ease creating rich, emotive and evolving, minimalist soundscapes. It really is a thing of beauty and highlights, or rather lowlights, his diverse musical influences; Sigur Ros meets unplugged sunn O))) (that’s experimental drone metal to the uneducated and is immersive and almost glacial in its evolution), anyone? 

‘Tangled Webs’, ‘Rigmarole’ and indeed ‘Rehash’ radiate with his signature finger-picking style creating a chiming and mournful backdrop to underpin his brooding and often acrobatic voice. Then, of course, his breakthrough song, ‘Stormy Seas,’ with his soulful high-register and Radiohead ‘Amnesiac’ era feel. It’s in these moments when any sense of inner conflict abates and I fully understand what Will is as an artist.

‘Black Bird Fever’ is a song befitting of Will’s troubadesque (not a word, but if should be) qualities; a love song. A song of yearning and regret. It is a vocal tour da force containing all manner of interesting trills, harmonies and devices synonymous with Will’s back catalogue. 

The imagery of his narrative is whimsical, often using playful and ambiguous metaphor, highlighting the conflicting emotions of love and its aftermath. He plays it, “fast and loose, like a sea breeze,” at times, over the verse patterns, but the choruses are more direct and to the point; “I was wrong, thinking I’d be better off alone.” The sentiment resolves everything rather nicely. Neat. Closed and unambiguous.

Musically, the song is sparse and reliant upon very busy finger-picking patterns that are at times mirrored vocally, but hurriedly. On occasions these lack definition, and have a mildly dissonant feel, against the smooth, nightingale-esque vocal line. This, sadly, is the fundamental reason for my original confliction. And one I have failed to get past. I feel that a warmer, more sympathetic treatment of the guitar, on the mixing desk, would have served this better for the sake of the song, and would have allowed Will’s stunning voice to soar without distraction.

The structure of the piece is simplistic; verse, chorus, repeat, mid-section, verse, chorus and out. It’s a tried and tested formula, but one that appears very linear without any notable dynamic shifts, in this instance. This is further inhibited by the production, which doesn’t seem to have any real sense of spatial awareness and often sounds cavernous and empty when, for me, a more intimate and warm treatment would have been appropriate.

Overall, I continue to be impressed by Will Pope as a lyricist and singer and absolutely believe that his popularity will continue to grow with the release of ‘True to Form.’ But for me, ‘Black Bird Fever’ fails to reach the heights of ‘At Once’, nor possess the wonderous spacious quality and spatial awareness of, ‘Great Dark Leaps.’ All opinion is, however, subjective and your ears may hear this entirely different, but that’s the beauty of music and long may Will continue to bless us with his notable gifts.

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Review

Summary

A beautifully, often acrobatically, sung folk ballad. Long may Will continue to bless us with his notable gifts.
76%
Soulful, Yearning, Folk-BalLad

Rating

Song Quality
Vocal Performance
Lyrics
Instrumentation
Production

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About Author

Gareth Johnston

Gareth Johnston is a Lancashire based musician and producer who studied music at MMU. He is a former reviewer for 'Glitzine' and when not writing for 'The Indie Grid' can be found restoring old furniture whilst listening to obscure alt-rock. He has too many favourite bands to pick one and insists it's easier to pick a favourite child.

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