Besides having their tendrils in local bands like Crake and Honey Guide, the debut album from Leeds’s Green Gardens exudes the very elixir – music, psychogeography – which makes the city so unique.
In conjunction with this regional spirit, ‘This Is Not Your Fault’ is a summit of the band’s qualities: in the profound vocal depths – somehow spanning the spectrum of Bob Dylan’s vocal styles across just one album – and emotional vortex that makes up their sound, they surpass heart-rending single ‘Chosen For More’. Both album and single demonstrate how Green Gardens’ emotive hooks, once moored – lyrically or musically – remain indefinitely. Travel towards poetic perfection is maintained, wherein traces of another Dylan (Thomas) occur, akin to their 2017’s ‘And I Felt Like The Sea…’, in the rhythmic power. Vitally, the four friends have honed a sonic symbiosis wholly theirs: like a supergroup of Slint guitar grooves, buoyed by an emotional resonance from the musical garden, and sonic freedom of Richard Dawson respectfully ventriloquising Bert Jansch’s earthy, intimacy.
A beautiful intro – whose nascent divinity embodies birth, antithesis to the album’s exploration of grief – is slightly spoilt by its shortness. Shards of celestial guitar allude to the atheistic, quasi-religious spirituality in the record’s burgeoning melodies and vocal harmonies (the turmoil doubly effective with backing vocals from Claudia Fenoglio). These transform alongside a cohesive narrative, journeying through “community grieving”, nurturing the listener (and narrator) through “stages of loss”. This cohesion is succinctly described by vocalist/bassist Jacob Cracknell as “blame milestones”, which the LP germinates among. Bookended by complimentary tracks that resolve each other’s grievances as a lump in the funereal throat is masticated, the main body exorcises emotive ups and downs spectacularly.
Through their startlingly honed, moving words, wondrous intermingling of guitar and sax (local saxophonist Tom Kettleton), the second and third tracks emit their core tenet: the album morphs it’s predominantly morose undertow into an ultimately uplifting new dawn (the closer’s climax being the best example of this). Opalescent, nature-seeped lyrics like “filter every inch of soil through my face”, alongside the more abstract “the books inside my head have found a new home on the floor” encapsulate the well-proportioned concrete/surreal slant in the mercurial lyrics.
‘Akin To Sap’ similarly displays the band’s innate ability to commune with the land. There’s an inexplicable brilliance to how it extols the land’s virtues: how the healing essence of rural environments – sensational mandolin, choral vocal harmonies, and viola provide this aura of ethereal saudade – better nurse mental trauma than any “go for a walk” comment. The track also expands the poetic prowess. A subtly altered repetition of it’s piercing quatrain (“less like water / And more akin to sap / This village funeral / Is breaking our backs”) reflects the dampening guilt and resolution through togetherness. Alongside the surrealness, such magnificent lyrics echo other poets’ land-based odes – like Huddersfield’s Simon Armitage.
‘A Cradling’ is their apex of magic. pulmonary beats of emotion centre the epic, the tender drums building to stoic blasts amid off-kilter (on the pleasing side of discordant) guitar; mellifluous vocals also trudge with a weariness only grief inflicts.
Fittingly, the majority was recorded in a church’s basement, to give “the energy of a live band and the intimacy of a small room.” Cracknell’s noting of intimacy is particularly potent, as his physically close and lexically pained words feel like a confession in the ear of your closest friend, a striking vessel for it’s exercise in death, guilt and regret.
This attribute is also firmly felt in the confessional awe of ‘Homeshredder’s “kind words spoken/Have burst my lips open” – one of many examples of rhyming excellence throughout. From deft repetition of this rhyming couplet, authentically dealt “fucking moron” to traditional poetics, and the album’s greatest neologism in a soothing titular refrain, ‘Homeshredder’ distils their poetry immaculately.
Few other contemporary artists more perfectly personify poetry, musically and lyrically. Many of the qualities inherent in the album’s success – self-described “feudal”, nuanced lyrics; sublime music – combine to raise another point. There is only one conceivable way the album’s concepts could be improved: a stage play centred around the music and themes; akin to Bowie’s ‘Lazarus’.
An entirely warranted ‘thee’, glorious metaphors, and restrained yet dynamic commands of sax and guitar allow the precious words to shine, and march towards a fully immersive, catharti on the final track. This closing section, a stirring blown sax/vocals/guitar cocktail, feels like experiencing an ecstatic revelation.
Green Gardens, from a personal nadir, have made a triumphant artistic high.
Words: James Kilkenny