HaWthorn – The Murky Brine

The British duo Howden/Wakeford recently changed their name to the less prosaic HaWthorn, fearing to be held for a firm of dubious solicitors. Money and law do play a role on The Murky Brine, but the poetic music on this experimental dark folk album transcends earthly matters.

The first track is an absolute highlight. ‘The law’ starts with the sound of waves and seagulls. And the tide gomes in is whispered like a reassuring mantra, while Matt Howden sings with a lot of feeling in this highly melancholic song based on piano. Old fears for a new world, but: The ocean is the law. The ocean is Lord.

Both men wrote five songs each for this album and divided the vocals accordingly, so the next song is sung by Tony Wakeford. The traditional ‘Now and at the hour of our death’ has a bleak, grim sound, with a deep throbbing bass and staccato drums which create a feeling of inevitability. The words of the title are constantly repeated, gaining in force and speed, coming at you like an unexpected confession.

The sea birds are back in ‘Rose coloured sky’, a rather dramatic piece with bad weather and memories of times long gon. Rather sombre, almost ghostlike violins fly through a rather deserted landscape. Rose coloured sky we mourn the past.

‘Moonlight and mist’ is another Wakeford classic, a dark fairytale, with a mood that make me think of his ‘In the garden’ period. Solid bass and mysterious strings carry this song which culminate in an experimental soundscape.

It is followed by ‘Ship money’, perhaps my favourite on The Murky Brine (which means something like ‘the dark sea’). It is based on various string loops, with multiple layers on top of each other. If you’ve ever seen Howden live you probably have an idea what he can do with just a violin and a loop pedal. In this song Matt sings about the evil of money and the dangers of the sea. Cut your throat like a goat for your coat / or a groat’s worth of money. As the song goes on it becomes truly swinging, with an irrestible groove. When I was listening this song in the train my fellow passengers asked me to stop tapping my foot so loud, which I couldn’t.

The album continues with half a dozen fine songs, which are now melancholic and romantic, then dark and macabre (Welcome to the house of locks / next stop: the butcher’s block). The songs of Howden are based around the sea, while Wakeford stays closer to the earth, with many references to trees and wood. The third album of Howden and Wakeford as a duo is in my opinion their strongest to date. The songs may be alittle more accessible and melodic, but seem to have more dimensions than ever, both music- and lyricwise.

The final track on The murky brine, ‘Carry me home’, sounds like a catharsis, with the relieving message The tide will carry us home. This almost medieval song has a cheerful violin melody, festive percussive and joint venture vocals. The harbour has been reached, let us toast under the trees.

artist: HaWthorn
label: Iceflower
details: 11 tracks, 2004 [TRI 222 CD]