Ordinarily an album recorded over seven years would sound disjointed and come at things from many areas however this is not the case with the long gestated collaboration between Fife singer-songwriter King Creosote and ambient producer Jon Hopkins. Diamond Mine is a cohesive and timeless collection of original folk melodies and subtle field recording abstractions.
Described by the vocalist/lyricist Creosote AKA Kenny Anderson as a ‘soundtrack to a romanticised version of a life lived in a Scottish coastal village’, the album has an outer worldly beauty and fragility rarely found these days. The only comparison that springs to mind is another celebrated collaboration from some years ago, Beth Gibbons’ wonderfully haunting album with Rustin Man, Out Of Season.
Field recordings or layers of ambience lift the tracks to a different level. The opening piece is 'First Watch', where the beautiful lilt of people at a stall or a shop provides a backing for the minimalist piano. A scene is set, an atmosphere created by the arrangements and atmospherics of one time Brian Eno associate Hopkins. A mournful yet ambient drone is cast upon the instrumental track.
An almost organic evolution takes place as the track moves seemingly into the first acoustic guitar and vocal part of the album, 'John Taylor’s Month Away' where King Creosote comes into his own. His voice and nuances hint at an almost archaic nature. He sings in provincial and exacting tones like the Scottish surrealist poet Ivor Cutler without giving way to the latter’s playful anarchy. The song itself is firmly rooted in place and story where the accordion and strum compliments the lyrical content of fishermen’s dreams and thoughts away at sea. Hopkins electro/ambient background adds a depth of harmonics to proceedings with the treated backing vocals and synth. This embeds the track with glacial sheen like the ghostly voices on Apollo: Atmospheres and Soundtracks by Eno himself.
More melancholic piano and atmospherics are to follow on 'Bats In The Attic'. The soaring harmonics are a treat as another folk isolationist Bon Iver is evoked in the fragile and sad melodies.
"And it’s such a waste of all that we have"
The ambience of a cave or possibly the sonar waves of bats are heard buried in the mix which really adds to the echoed production style of the number.
'Running On Fumes' is another evocative track, a look at a failing relationship with quietly devastating vocals and acoustic guitar. As the singing hits a peak, the crisp and polyphonic backing vocals comes to the fore. Hopkins burgeoning soundtrack career shows its benefits as he introduces fire crackle at the start and muffled voices near the end to excellent effect. It creates an atmosphere of immediacy and demonstrates why he is emerging so strongly onto the film score scene.
'Bubble' may not be up to the same standard as the previous tracks but it does showcase Hopkins' ability to create angelic synthesizer music that reaches for the heavens. Maybe this expertise is a reason for his recent work with David Lynch as it does put you in mind of the stirring scores of Angelo Badalamenti. Also Hopkins’ subtle use of buried percussion in the pitter patter blip and glitches are barely audible but are intrinsic and would be missed if taken out.
The penultimate track 'Your Own Self' is another brilliant harmony over an emotive piano and violin embossed number. A cavernous synth underscores the force and yearning of the vocals. The violin permeates to the surface near the end to create a sad defiance befitting the soured pleadings of the singer.
The closer demonstrates Creosote’s falsetto who pitches it like some lost island voice from centuries past. Its distant tones are at once unfamiliar and yet warm and beguiling in their delivery. It is a haunting and uplifting refrain to a strange and beautiful album.
"Your young voice that’s keeping me holding on to my dull life"
The only drawback to the collection is that Creosote’s voice can become prosaic on the one hand and is overly ambitious on the other. Its fragility is a double edged sword; it can have a genuine hurt innocence to it but it can also be quite weak in the musical sense. But this is just nit picking as overall it is rare to find a modern folk collection with such guile and ambition without losing the essence of where it is coming from. Diamond Mine may be slight but it is a ghostly and atmospheric minor gem of an album.
- Tim Gannon