Wednesday, February 24th, 2010

The Unthanks – Lucky Gilchrist

Note to our writers: Newcastle isn’t in Scotland…


Pete Baran: The song title suggests a knockabout Adam Sandler film, but the casting changes as soon as the song starts. Instead we find ourselves in a film that could be cut from a Scottish miserablism cloth, except it is a touch too knowing. The Unthanks come on like the folk Delgados here, with the kind of narrative power that the first minute of chanting our lead character’s name belies. By the time the choir hit the “Not so Lucky” I was sold on it: compelling, funny and musically angular enough to take it out of the folk box and mark it for crossover. It’ll need an audience ready for it, but I think there might be one out there. I just hope the film doesn’t star Ewan MacGregor.

Martin Skidmore: The rather classical string playing is good, but the song is so awkward, and the vocals so weak that I can find no pleasure in this at all.

Alex Ostroff: There’s a lot of talent here, both among the vocalists, the string section and the touches of swinging jazz piano. Unfortunately, the compromise ends up neither funky enough to catch my ears, nor folky enough to catch my heart.

Doug Robertson: The vocals highlight their folky inclinations, but other than that there’s little here to tie it to the beard and scrumpy stereotype that’s attached to the genre like dead voles to an electric fence, and even then the multilayered voices wouldn’t exactly be considered to be harmonised. Instead it’s all soaring piano plinks and plonks, a slight air of menace, and a struggle to define exactly what it is that makes this track so special. Sometimes, much like with a puppy, picking it apart to try and find out why it works is just a really bad idea.

Michaelangelo Matos: Tricky-timed piano, strings, airy harmonies, weirdly caught between trad and daring, quite beguiling: a Geordie Roches (two of ’em, Unthank is their real surname) singing folksong co-arranged by the Penguin Cafe Orchestra and Chic. There are dozens of artists that should become instantly jealous. Just don’t watch them on Jools Holland because it’ll break the spell: turns out they, ugh, clog dance.

Matt Cibula: Just when they were about to make me like them with cascading waves of dippy folky loveliness, out come the tap shoes and it’s Tilly and the Wall all over again.

John Seroff: Honeyed but never cloying, lush but not overwrought, gentle but not twee, precious but not overly mannered. An endearing theme for a musical I wouldn’t mind seeing.

Ian Mathers: Memory is a tricky thing, but as far as mine can tell this song is pitched halfway between what I remember the Unthanks (back when it was Rachel Unthank and the somethings) sounding like and, I don’t know, Field Music or something. It drifts too much to really hold the attention, but if you cut it down to maybe three minutes focusing on the strangely layered group vocals it’d be compellingly odd. As it is, there’s a ton of potential here and I’m curious to hear what else they’re doing with this sound, but I’m not feeling the urge to listen to this particular song again.

4 Responses to “The Unthanks – Lucky Gilchrist”

  1. Note to editor, Lucky Gilchrist is himself Scottish in the song.

  2. Love this song. Surprised no one mentioned Sufjan; I don’t know if he’s an actual influence or anything (the Unthanks seem to be tuned into their own trad-folk world), but the syncopated piano-driven orch-pop reminds me a lot of a song like “Come On! Feel the Illinoise!”

  3. Note to our writers: Newcastle isn’t in Scotland…

    Harrumph. Next you’ll be saying that Minnesota isn’t in Canada.

  4. Newcastle is closer to Scotland than to me.