ALBUM REVIEW: Kathryn Joseph – From When I Wake the Want Is

9/10

Scottish songstress Kathryn Joseph is on a roll. Her 2015 debut “Bones You Have Thrown Me and Blood I’ve Spilled” gain high critical praise and won the Scottish Album of the Year Award in 2015. She followed this up by participating in an inspired collaboration with James Graham of The Twilight Sad and Producer Marcus Mackay as the Scottish Altie supergroup Outlines. The group released the gripping “Conflats” in October of last year and it is a current entrant on the shortlist for The Scottish Album of the Year Award 2018. On her latest release, “From When I Wake the Want Is” Joseph once again astonishes.

The album has already reached number 1 on the Record Store Charts and will almost assuredly appear if not win another Scottish Album of the Year Award in 2019. On From When I Wake the Want Is Joseph continues to weave her magic, utilizing more sonic textures while addressing themes of love, lust, flesh, blood and family, the very elements that make up life. Her lyrics speak to the complications of life with beautifully unnerving straightforwardness.

Upon commencing on the new album Joseph recruited prior musical partner and esteemed producer, Marcus Mackay. Mackay is developing an ever growing reputation for his deft touch and brilliant ear, having produced a virtual who’s who of current rising Scottish musical artists. His work on the Outlines Conflats release with Joseph attests to his brilliance. On From When I Wake the Want Is his skills are even more evident as he provides a sonic canvas for Joseph’s luminous songwriting to unspool. Joseph for her part builds on the simplicity of her debut using the experience she gained on Conflats delivering a release that is quality through and through. On this outing, the songs are broadened out and embellish her piano play with throbbing bass/synths and percussion that emphasizes the emotions conveyed.

Joseph has stated that the impetus for the release was a fractured romantic relationship. “From when I Wake…” often chronicles that relationship; its life, death and the hope for resurrection and the overall toll love takes. Additionally, the songs examine illness, grief, and death and how they look to subsume us. Victory comes from the realization that love breaks the curse of these burdens on life’s journey.

The album opens with IIII and an ethereal dissonance that transports the listener into Joseph’s world. The newly introduced percussion element is a perfect accent to the song. Joseph mixes the soundscapes of Beach House with the drama of Kate Bush, at her most alluring, and comes up with an entrancing selection. It is commonly understood that Joseph is capable of belt out a track but here utilizes a whispered vocal to draw in the listener. She distils the events of life both good and bad into the narrative of the song. The title track, From When I Wake the Want Is hits you where you live with this sensuous selection. The direct piano with apt drums provides a swirling feeling much akin to the loss of self-awareness in the sex act. Joseph pulls no punch as she describes sex as a cathartic experience and the release of the sex act and its intimacy, “The way you suckle the darkness out”, making for an uncommon and gutsy song.

The brief track And You Survived conveys a sense of loneliness and a windswept landscape while it encourages the listener to be brave and conquer personal setbacks. The Celtic influenced Tell My Lover begins with an intriguing oscillating sonic then shifts into a broader piano atmospheric. This dramatic track is stark in its bare emotions and conveys a sense of Joseph just barely tethered to the earth in her vocal performance. And it Will Lick You Clean morphs from the prior darker tunes with a brighter crystalline piano that seems to interact more with the other instrumentation. The “It” of the title is life and love and speaks to the setbacks and triumphs in each area. Of note is the mid-tempo change up to the track as it gets smokier and more Jazz influenced about halfway through.

There is No God but You as the title suggests is about a love that supplants any worshipped deity. Joseph describes the enormity of this idea as an all-consuming love that unleashes a kind of uncontrollable emotion. She also examines the love interest’s burden in living up to those expectations. The song is arresting in its sonics and narrative. Safe displays Joseph creating another dramatic atmospherically wide track that plays with the meaning of the word safe. Utilized is a glimmering piano and spoken prose lyric. Additionally evocative is We Have Been Loved by Our Mothers. This outstanding selection examines motherhood, family and the blessings that come from the basic gift of being loved by our mothers. Acknowledged are the obligations and benefits of a love that is the launch pad of our life.

The lullaby quality of Mouths Full of Blood belies the belligerence of the lyrics. The sonics are swirling dappled beauty juxtaposed against the implied violence of life socking the individual in the mouth, and how everyone gets their turn. This track reminded me of the works on the Conflats collaboration which utilized the beauty of the instrumentation to help reveal the pain and angst of the themes. The sweeping Mountain has a dramatic opening as this powerful song relays the idea of the mountain as unmoving and the place of confrontation. The mountain is the peak, the place to face fear, sorrow and the inevitability of death, the place where you meet your God, “Waiting for God and asking him why”.

The track Weight again shows Joseph playing with the meaning of words. She plays on the homonym of weight. The song is rousing as Joseph is in full twirl revealing her inner sorceress as she releases this incantation. The final track ^^ is the most experimental outing on the release. It opens with a distorted guitar and the found noise of a discordant music box. The selection is made more unsettling with a child reading a poem. The distortion accompaniment burns away into a piano ballad as evocative as any on the release. ^^ is a brilliant farewell and possible peek into what is to come in future from Joseph. The selection is an unexpected but brilliant ending to an album that engages from beginning to end.

With From When I Wake the Want Is Joseph successfully divines between pain and beauty, love and loss, and happiness and despair balancing between the opposites almost perfectly. Mackay has to be credited with bringing in new textures to the sonics that highlight Joseph’s extraordinary written and vocal skills. There is a constant feeling that she is fully invested in each song and holding nothing back. She has found a way to progress, discovering new ways to import her message all the while never letting go of what makes her music so unique. That is a feat every artist hopes to pull off and she seems to do it effortlessly. Do not miss the opportunity to encounter this spellbinding release.