Wooden Arms excel on Trick of the Light

Trick of the LightNo one does melancholy better than Wooden Arms. The five-piece chamber pop group from Norwich have brought out an excellent sophomore record in Trick of the Light, bearing all the hallmarks of their sound – the explicit classical music influence, the rich choral vocals, the warm twin vocals of Alex Carson and Jeff Smith – but with a certain bite, a rockier edge that wasn’t there on their debut, Tide, released back in 2014.

Working again with David Pye (Wild Beasts, Egyptian Hip Hop) they craft gorgeous arrangements, taking their time over the song structures, and creating a style akin to a darker Sigur Ros. While they have had much success on the radio – Lauren Laverne and Tom Robinsons are fans, among others – their music feels more suited to film scores. Indeed, the Erik Satie inspired number ‘Movie Stall’, could have been lifted from Yann Tiersen’s legendary Amelie Poulain soundtrack, that is until the trumpet enters the frame.

The darker edge to their music first reared its head on "December", the opening track on their first album and the leading singles off Trick of the Light hinted that this was the direction they were taking. ‘Burial’, inspired by a short story by gothic writer Edgar Allen Poe, is stitched together by the angry violin lines of Azita Mehdinejad. While the gorgeous chorus bursts through the song like sunrays crashing through thick cloud, a feeling of unease prevails until it closes with Alex MacKenzie’s mad cacophony of drums. Similarly, there is a dark, brooding feel to the second single, ‘Lost in Your Own Home’, with its epic, crashing piano chords, Fifi Homan’s ominous cello lines and Alex’s almost deliriously garbled vocals: “I fumbled through duvets, cavernous collected cottons to find some relief…

The record sees the band explore various elements of their sound and songwriting style. Their distinctiveness comes in their fusion of the direct classical composition and shuffling, trip-hop-inspired percussion rhythms, and this meeting of styles is seen no more starkly than on "Cole Porter". Its blend of chiming piano octaves, soaring violin (including a Sibelius-like solo in the middle section, following a change of key) and those rich choral vocals, create a constantly changing mood, though always impassioned. The classical influence is also plain on the Beethoven-esque arpeggios of "Encrypted".

While an eerie feeling is threaded through most of the record, there are moments of light relief, especially in "Brevity" and its floating lazily down a river in Japan violin/piano riff (you’ll know when you hear it!). Indeed, my only reservation with Trick of the Light as a whole would be that the many different styles detract from the coherence of the record. It is almost more a showcase of their different ideas and abilities rather than a single piece of work. That said, I’d always take a varied album over an overly repetitive one...

Release: 6th October 2017, Fierce Panda
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