A lot of folk artists have been featured on this blog, but few have stuck out as much as Denmark-based British singer-songwriter Joshua Brain, better known by his stage name Calming River, who has a new EP on the way titled The Ones That We Left Behind.
The 4 tracks on this record feature a haunting, goosebump-inducing atmosphere, and each have a gripping story to tell. Joshua’s ability to suck in the listener through his words is fascinating, it’s a hypnotic quality you don’t often find in folk music, and it’s only furthered accentuated by his strong vocals and polished finger-picking on the acoustic guitar.
For certain, a mesmerizing EP that is one of the most striking works of the genre to be produced this year.
For many, this latest 4-track EP from Calming River may sound like a clone of Mumford and Sons’ softer side: delicate, well-balanced fingerpicking over a background of orchestral instruments here and there; a voice resonating softly above it all like syrup draped over pancakes, and cryptic, meaningful lyrics. On that alone, they would be right, but they’re wrong, there’s more here than meets the ear.
The first track, ‘Actress pt. II’, immediately sets the tone of this alternative-acoustic-folk album. Its haunting introduction, melancholic violin draws and poignant lyrics combine to show us an intriguing and sombre aesthetic; it brings to mind a cold, rippling lake with a man adrift, telling us his story. Later tracks follow suit in distinctive ways, different chapters of the same book, as the third track ‘Solemn Witness’ reveals just how talented his fingers are in a heartfelt admonition of love. The album is intricate, emotional and dripping with a sad sense of things that ‘could have been’, telling a tale of mistakes and regret.
Once past these initial impressions we can start to see the smaller details: the slow, tense build-up of each song; the minimalist and quietly beautiful album art; timid and yet rousing vocals, all of which combine to produce a stripped back feel. This is a man (yes, just one man) who has something to say, but feels no need for flair or caricature. His work is flawed, raw and honest, no doubt exactly as planned. His breakout 2014 album ‘Afflict and Redeem’, stirred up a storm amongst music fans after its release and tour, and can be found on Spotify, WiMP and iTunes.
The name “Calming River” says already a lot about the music content of the project created by Danish living Joshua Brain: a peaceful uninterrupted flow, with subtle melancholic contours, characterises his tracks, which yet are not neglected or monochords, but they rather focus on intricate acoustic filigrees and on his soft but vibrant vocal timbre, on the edge of a slight tension.
However, as in “Afflict and Redeem”, the album from the past year, the Calming River palette is not limited to the songwriter guitar and voice only, because the expanded times of Brain´s ‘light-shadow’ songs provide suspended interstices where strings arrangements and rhythmic shades sketch in. Hence, a fluid and dynamic essentiality characterises the four tracks of the EP “The Ones That We Left Behind”, soaked with human frailty but with great expressive power, in a sad-core groove of suffused chamber traits.
The violin of DJ Alvaro Suarez gives such depth to the fluid picking and to Brain´s soft harmonies. His sorrowful voice is on the verge of breaking in the wonderful opening “The Actress Pt. II”.
Muffled environments underlie also the other three tracks of the EP. These tracks have slightly firmer structures, even nervous in the sudden final rise of “Art Of Wire”. These structures let foresee enchanted bucolic accents (the final flute of “Solemn Witness”) and a mysterious circularity, that almost reminds the painful beginnings of Mark Kozelek, blazing up in a controlled rise of lyricism (“Inertia Fire”).
Brain´s songs are framed by intro and/or instrumental endings, that not only highlight the warm acoustic textures of the Danish artist, but also brush cameos of chamber music — an ideal complement of introspective songwriting, being precise, peaceful and smooth.