Sundark And Riverlight
63.06 min • Bloody Chamber Music • October 15, 2012
It’s about time I got this years winter album. Last year, the warm soundtrack to my cold winter nights was Patrick Wolf’s ode to winter, Brumalia, and this year he’s done it again.
Two disc set Sundark And Riverlight (the name being taken from his song ‘London’, featured here) is a compilation of tracks celebrating Patrick’s ten years in commercial music. Wrongly dubbed as a “greatest hits” by lazy critics, it’s two albums of haunting rearrangements – acoustic versions of songs stretching from his digital hardcore tinged debut Lycanthropy through to the aforementioned Brumalia.
One of the most stunning things about Patrick Wolf is his song writing. He’s essentially a 19th Century folk singer, with a modern pop heart and an electronic soul, and his subject matter ranges from the historical to the emotional. Recorded at Peter Gabriel’s Real World Studios, and from the beautiful artwork and teaser video, everything about this stunning collection feels like a sonic journey, taking me through both the Sundark and the Riverlight talked about in the title.
From the lush opener of Sundark, ‘Wind In The Wires’, sets the tone perfectly, but it’s songs like ‘Oblivion’ and ‘Vulture’, normally electronic, that are the most surprising here. Stripped of their heavy electronic production, and laid bare as the brilliant songs they are, the songs are given a new life. It’s a thoroughly dark affair, with ‘Vulture’ being turned into a black ballad dripping with regret, and song ‘Hard Times’ being stripped of its glorious electronica somehow feels darker than the original, whilst still packing a dance punch that made me jig about on the tube like my Dad at a wedding. Sundark is a solitary album, packed with reflection and gloomy introspection, just the way I like it. The brilliant ‘Bitten’, from the winterdark ep Brumalia, is exactly how it should have been originally, hauntingly beautiful and epic. ‘Overture’, from Patrick’s “pop” album, The Magic Position, comes across as much more of an overture than it originally did, and the stunning ‘Paris’ (always my favourite song by Patrick) closes the door on the first half of our journey, allowing us to say goodbye to the dark perfectly, and welcome the light.
As we step into Riverlight, we are engulfed by what sounds like a Spanish guitar (although, given Patrick’s wont of avoiding guitars, I doubt it is) as we are thrown into ‘Together’. Its lyrics of getting through dark times with a partner is the first ray of sunshine that breaks the shadow, and by the time the strings arrive on love song ‘The Magic Position’ (probably Patrick’s most commercially known song), the sky has burst into a million shades of blue. The beauty of Patrick’s songwriting is showcased perfectly on this album, but particulary on Riverlight, with its opitimistic love ballads. I can’t put into words how stunning I find songs such as ‘Bluebells’ and ‘Teignmouth’ when performed in this way, other than as a whole Riverlight does exactly what it says on the tin. It sounds like sunshine reflecting off a brook. Like green forests, shards of light shooting through a ceiling of trees. And those two songs especially, sound like nature, before we are swept back to London again in the songs ‘London’, the autumnal walk down ‘Bermondsey Street’ and Patrick’s most open love song, ‘House’. Closer ‘Wolf Song’ brings things full circle, back into the forest and back to nature, with just the moonlight to guide us.
It’s interesting that Patrick has chosen his most personal, lonely songs to make up the first CD, and his more euphoric writing for the second, but it does give the feeling of truly being guided through darkness into the light. Fuck religion – this is pure spirituality. As this collection washes over you, it’s primal. Bare, naked nature, human or otherwise, like we’ve never heard it before, and it’s a beautiful feeling.
Now, I’m not going to lie, I prefer Patrick’s electronic side, I always have. It was the stuttering folktronica of debut Lycanthropy that made me such a fan in the first place, but as beauty goes, this album is beyond words. If songs are like children, then Patrick’s children are now fully grown up, and this is the evidence. It’s hard to believe that after ten years in the music industry, with an ever evolving style thats taken him through every spectrum of pop, from the cool and obscure to the downright chart friendly, that Patrick isn’t a legend. Maybe he’s just a fable – like the folklore he weaves in his music, and he’s one I’ll definitely be passing down. (But yes, I did go and blast ‘Empress’ through my speakers as soon as I had finished listening to Riverlight – and it still sounded as fresh as ever ten years on.) If you don’t know who Patrick is, chastise yourself – then start here, and work you way back. You won’t be disappointed.