(4 / 5)
The fourth studio album from UK singer songwriter Russell Joslin delivers 14 impressive self-penned songs which examine heart, unrest and rebellion in an increasingly fraught and controlling world.
The 33-year-old artist dropped his debut album recorded in his bedroom, “Dream Token” in 2007 to unexpected critical acclaim. Since then and having released a further two albums in that decade, his every waking moment career-wise has been gearing up towards making the album he had in his head and his heart. This one.
Well worth waiting for it is too…. Aside from his solo work, he has fronted two rock bands, folk-punk duo Pretty Bricks and Art Rock trio High Windows. Aswell as becoming a fixture of the city’s singer songwriter scene in London, where he has made his home for the last 12 years.
He now tours as a duo with his Australian soulmate and singing partner Sarah McCaig. Over the past 18 months, he has toured western Europe extensively, supported Martha Tilston for several shows and been booked for numerous UK folk festivals and a slot at the famed multi-genre Isle Of Wight Festival.
Themes of love and rebellion, in the context of a controlling society are key to both Russell’s new album and ‘We’ the seminal dystopian 1921 novel, and precursor to Orwell’s ‘1984’, by Yevgeny Zamyatin, from which the album takes its name.
‘We’ tells the story of D 503, a man of numbers, subservient to the ‘One State’, who falls in love and eventually rebels against the totalitarian regime which confines him. The atmosphere of “Hey Mathematician”, while having the contemporary world as it’s backdrop, owes a debt to the futuristic and troubled story of ‘We,’ as Joslin paints a picture of love, sentimentality, fear and hope on the canvas of an increasingly anguished, digitised environment.
The love expressed throughout the album is almost always that of Joslin and his Australian girlfriend Sarah McCaig, the couple are pictured on the album cover reflected in an East London puddle holding on to each other for dear life in industrial filth, to face the city’s storms as lovers and artists.
There are dark love songs such as “Water For Blood”, “The Cold Of The Night” and “Shackles”, which represent city dwellers the world over; “rudderless souls searching for romance, integrity and wonder in a system which seems increasingly intent on the distraction and domination of its Citizens”.
The second cut in, “Elevate Me (Smoke)” is an insubordinate, demanding letter to politicians in the wake of a secnd Tory UK election victory, expressing disgust at the degrading state of English society compared with the comfort and connivance of the nation’s leaders.
Traditional protest songs on the album include “If I Die A Tory” and “The Blocks Of St Lukes”, whilst the first song should be self-explanatory to anyone familiar with the UK’s Conservative government, the latter is a tribute to Sam Hallam, jailed for seven years in 2005, for a murder he did not commit, indicative of many, many, many miscarriages of UK justice.
“Hey Mathematician” was conceived as a raw, live recording using the city’s top sessions players to fill out the songs. Preparation came in the form of Russell’s past two years of European touring, comprising over 150 live shows.
Russell Joslin has created a personal folk album which speaks about its wider time and place, tapping in to modern society’s darkness for material. He has an intensity and ache about his vocal. Maybe a few tracks of the 14 here could have been culled to make it a more even listen. A couple more up-tempo cuts would have given a tad more light and shade too. I felt a few tracks were perhaps a little under-produced and could have been given added value. But overall, this guy is a cool artist with something to say and he says it very well indeed.
Standouts for me are “The Cold Of The Night”, “Early Woman”, “The Blocks Of St Lukes” and the closer, “Doves May Fly”. Tip for you…there is a hidden track about a minute after the end of the final track, song 14, and it is well worth finding. In fact; it is my favourite of the entire album! Gorgeous harmonies from Russell and Sarah McCaig, almost Simon and Garfunkel vibes.
By Simon Redley
(2 / 5) ‘OK Zone’
(3 / 5) ‘Decent Zone’
(4 / 5) ‘Super Zone’
(5 / 5) ‘Awesome Zone’