One of the most versatile artists on the English Folk Scene, Jon Boden has long since demonstrated that he’s not bound by convention, but even those who anticipate that this, his second solo album may tread a different path, are going to surprised and thrilled by ‘Songs from the Floodplain’.
The album has a theme that is common across all art forms, and while you can find many distinguished books, video games and films that cover post apocalyptic society (notable examples include Mary Shelley’s ‘The Last Man’ from 1826, the films ‘Mad Max’ and ‘Twelve Monkeys’ from the 80’s & 90s, right up to the ‘Fallout 3’ video game of 2008), this is a subject that has never seriously been tackled in the form of an album.
The album is actually far less bleak than the books, games and films that abound around the subject, as while it’s obvious in the songs that infrastructure, industry and technology of the New World are all collapsing, the fundamental fabric of decency and society still exists.
Although Fallout shelters are mentioned in the lyrics, we’re never explicitly told the nature of the disaster that has occurred, whether it’s a natural disaster or as a result of war and this ambiguity serves the songs well, and really sums up the draw of the album – the stories, characters and themes are beautifully realised, but it’s the listeners imagination that fills in the gaps to make this an individual and vivid tale.
Jon provides all the instrumentation on the album, and the overall sounds falls somewhere between folk and rock – it’s probably a quieter album than you would imagine, but it’s full of atmosphere that is created by mainly electric and acoustic guitar, fiddle, drums and accordion. Vocally, he is in fine form, some the excesses of his Bellowhead delivery are dropped in favour of a more straight delivery that suits the material and atmosphere.
As a collection of songs there is a theme running through, and there are some superb individual songs here, the opener ‘We Do What We Can’ is a strong contemporary song, ‘Beating the Bounds’ has obvious English folk roots (and introduces an important character to the story); and while the whole story never really reaches its conclusion, the final song ‘Has-been Cavalry’ puts a defiant slant on the tale.
While narrative theme of the subject matter is likely to divide opinion into those who think this is one of the bleakest albums ever conceived, and those who feel it’s the most inspired and interesting collection for years; to my ears it’s a brilliant and original piece of work from conception through to execution, and an album that stands so far out from the crowd that it is guaranteed to have high profile.
All those who go in with an open mind are going to come away with a unique listening experience. Unreservedly recommended.