Regaling tales of gothic breeding and devilish intent, Of Ghosts the new album from UK folk/rock band The Agency is one of the most compelling releases you are likely to hear this year. It is not a release which leaps from the speakers, though it has individual moments which are inescapable, but over time casts a captivation which through slow and potent persuasion makes for a captivating proposition. Like a hybrid mix of Nick Cave and a folk version of Southern Death Cult with extra shadowing from Coil, the band’s sound and album is a riveting adventure. It maybe does not ignite the fires as much as it should but never relinquishes an enticing grip on appetite and imagination from start to finish.
Formed in 2012, The Agency started out as a large musical collective before slimming down to a five piece core, though the Newcastle upon Tyne band still invites guests and friends from the beginning to add their flavouring to their sound, Of Ghosts seeing Fraser Smith (Little Man Tate/Shed Seven), pianist Scott Wall (My Exit Music), and Jim Ward contributing to its offerings. Debut album For the Brave and Troubled the band’s first year raised strong attention around the band but it is with this successor that the quintet of Andy Ludbrook (bass), Steven K Driver (singer/songwriter/guitar), Steve Beyer (guitar), Garry Cosgrove (drums), and Kerry Ramsay (vocals) will surely breach a nationwide spotlight.
The album opens with She and instantly has ears and thoughts tied up in the song’s attractive coaxing. Teasing rhythms and a dark flirty bassline entice first before the plain yet alluring vocals of Driver unveil the first narrative of the release. The song slowly sways and embraces senses and imagination, its sultry climax increasing in colour as melodies swim elegantly across ears and the siren-esque harmonies of Ramsay float across the growing sinister scenery. The song is glorious, a sonic and emotional emprise to immerse in whilst an ever present mischief within the band plays.
Next Child So Careless gently shuffles in on a keen rhythmic lure aligned to another melancholic bass temptation and varied guitar revelry. There is no real urgency to the song but it still strolls with an energy and feistiness which brings feet to life and has ears rigorously attentive. It is a thrilling encounter with brightly shimmering melodies within a smouldering climate of emotive and dramatic heat, reminding in some ways of fellow city kinsmen Bernaccia. Keeping the impressive start of the album going, the song moves over for the less immediate hugs of ballads For The Daughter and Border Song. Though both take time to seize thoughts compared to their outstanding predecessors, each explore enthralling landscapes of sound and intrigue to place a steady hand on a growing appetite for the release. The first is a warm yet haunting, almost funereal croon with strings an emotionally inspiring hue alongside the dourly expressive vocals whilst the second slips into an even more sobering atmosphere of melancholy and sonic radiance for a less successful but still enjoyable proposition.
The organ fuelled Fast raises the album’s strongest lure again, its thick drama and minimalistic touch a tender and sonically blistering incitement which would fit a Twin Peaks episode perfectly. It is only part of the story though as a funky folk festivity breaks out with melodies and vocals flirting with Wickerman like devilry. The track is engrossing, a pinnacle of the album and a doorway into the darkest corners of the band’s songwriting.
Through the colourful journey musically and lyrically of The Traveller and Sad Parallel which holds a tone and presence which can almost be described as Mark Lanegan meets The Doors, The Agency hold the imagination in the palms of their creative hands. Without lighting obvious fires, the tracks majestically get under the skin with lingering temptation before an atmospheric reprise of For The Daughter leads into the irresistible call of The Temple. The track is a warped dance of vocal and melodic contagion brushed with sonic causticity and addictive rhythmic bait. Simultaneously intimidatingly dark and vibrantly light, the song is a scintillating eventful stroll.
Of Ghosts is brought to a more than decent end by the evocative vocal and guitar led croon of Jack and Spade, a blood soaked reflection of gothic expression. It is a fine end to a release which simply grows and seduces with every listen. The Agency have a masterful ability to tell and colour tales from the darkest shadows for richly satisfying explorations for imagination and emotions, and their album an enthralling portrait of that skill.
Of Ghosts is available digitally and on CD now on Solarbear Records and @ http://theagency1.bandcamp.com/album/of-ghosts
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