‘Islands’ is Josh Geffin’s latest release, a four track EP of spare, brooding and highly affecting Indie tinged folk. That Geffin may still be some way short of being a household name, even in the circles that revolve around this music, is a shame because this record is a cracker. Its 18 minutes is packed with musical beauty, lyrical dexterity and an engaging vocal character that delivers these songs in a way that is totally convincing.
Geffin has suggested that this is a “break-up” record and that is eminently believable. It is clearly a small collection of song concerned with relationships, and ones that are not going well, or even going at all. What it (thankfully) lacks though is that self-referencing pity and bitterness that pervades so may ‘break-up’ records and it is all the more universal for that. It speaks to us in a direct, clear and compelling voice. One that allows us to wallow (and that is very specifically the word here) in the intimate world created by Geffin as if it were our own. To feel his sadness but with empathy and hope, not despair.
It would be easy to reference the obvious folk luminaries in whose lineage this record follows, Nick Drake, Michael Chapman, Richard Thompson or Fred Neil are perfectly defensible reference points. However they only tell half the story. There is a durable backbone of influence from a more contemporary ‘indie’ coterie, so we are reminded of Elliot Smith, John Darnielle or even Bon Iver at times during the course of the record.
Perhaps the most surprising but also affecting influence is that of Nick Cave. Final song, the 6 minute ‘Holy Road To Nowhere’ features a beautiful piano intro that immediately brings to mind the Majesty of Cave’s ‘Into My Arms’. The songs grows from here and builds a real anthemic momentum until, just as it sounds like it is about to enter full lighters-aloft mode, the arrangement breaks down and the momentum is, momentarily, lost. Whilst Cave may not have allowed this to happen, it is one of the little foibles here that add the extra level of charm and authenticity to this record.
Geffin’s guitar playing throughout is also superb. His fingerpicking style delivers intricate lines that are fluid and graceful, creating a real sense of movement and dynamics that shifts the songs to another level. His guitar playing may stand out but it is complimented by faultlessly crafted arrangements that are balanced and perfectly at ease with the tone of the record.
There are improvised strings from Francesca Ter-Berg and Alice Zawadski throughout, weaving their way through the undergrowth on ‘Falter’, adding layers of beauty as we come across them almost by accident every now and then. Gareth Farmer’s drums offer up just the right level of modest drive to propel the songs and along with Robin Peters’ bass grounds them in Geffin’s lovely melodies.
Time to leave this reductive analysis behind though – deconstruction of the record’s playing, lyrical acuity, arranging or even a song by song breakdown fails to get the point, which is that ‘Islands’ works best as a unified whole. It’s a beautiful, warm and seamless piece of art that is at once comforting and thought provoking. A real uplifting gem on which to close this dreadful year.