The band is comprised of sisters Rachel and Becky Unthank and three others: Niopha Keegan, Adrian McNally and Chris Price. Mount the Air is their sixth studio album, a mixture of traditional and original folk tunes, very much informed by Rachel’s husband, McNally, who plays keyboard and percussion and wrote and produced much of the music. It opens with the album title track, a ten-minute stately beginning, full of mournful chords and dramatic flourishes, which set the manifesto for the rest of the album. It focuses on precise yet impressionistic storytelling, mostly from the point of view of a scorned woman, as in Foundling.
The album includes the arresting single, Flutter. It begins with a drawn out, tense violin note before the distinctive piano chords start. The sparse production with Rachel Unthank’s will-o’-the-wisp vocals floating over it means it doesn’t sound quite like anything else. The lyrics are deceptively simple: “Life’s aflutter, no more darkness in my belly”, which only adds to the intensity.
Magpie begins with an ominous flapping of wings, then the harmonised voices explain the superstition. The Magpie “is more cunning than the raven, more wise than any owl…she brings us tidings of news fair and foul”. For Dad starts with a recording of the Unthanks’ father talking before the heartbreaking violin is heard – a moving instrumental tribute.
There is a feeling of ancient spirituality, an embracing of the sometimes dark and sometimes superstitious roots of English culture throughout the album. The ancient and mystical are presented as still relevant. The Unthanks’ vocal delivery has consonants so enunciated yet super-soft that you could sleep on them, so they start to sound almost Scandinavian. This sounds a little affected at times, though it does mean that you pick out every single word of the lyrics, which is unusual and aids in the rich storytelling that they wish to convey.
Mount the Air is an intensely folksy and traditional album and yet it still manages to sound fresh, relevant and modern. A layered and mystical listen.
Mount the Air was released on 9th February 2015, for further information or to order the album visit here.
Watch the video for Flutter here: